Creased and Crumpled
A painting by Winold Reiss arrived at Lowy after remaining in storage for many years, neglected, and in need of conservation. It depicted a scene from Procter & Gamble’s Ivorydale Plant that shows workers cutting large slabs of soap into individual bars. Like most studies, it was never intended for exhibition but as a working template, with measurements written on the face of the painting for its conversion into a mosaic. Reiss had accepted the commission to create a group of fourteen mosaic murals based on different industries in Cincinnati for the Art-Deco Union Terminal station by its builders. Procter & Gamble’s Ivorydale Plant and the Ivory soap making process was selected as the subject of one of the murals. The mosaic murals were completed in 1932-33 and installed in Union Terminal. They were later moved to the Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky International Airport.
This study was recently purchased by Procter & Gamble from the Reiss family and will be installed in the lobby of the Ivorydale Technical Center, just outside of Cincinnati. Fritz Winold Reiss (1886-1953) was born in Bavaria where he enjoyed painting portraits and was influenced by his father who was also a painter. He left Germany in 1913 to study art in America. While living in the United States, he traveled to Montana where he painted portraits of Native Americans in Glacier National Park and to New York where he painted African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920′s. He established a reputation as a teacher and designer and began creating monumental mosaic murals for public spaces such as restaurants, clubs and transportation terminals across the country. Rainbow pastel colors and stylized geometric shapes formed the trademark images that established Reiss as an innovator of commercial and industrial design in the 1930′s. His works received widespread recognition as outstanding examples of the Art Deco style. He was also historically important for introducing progressive ideas of modern European design to the United States.
The Procter & Gamble study was painted on what resembled a painter’s drop cloth; a lightweight cotton that was prone to oxidation and subsequent gray discoloration. The thinness of the material also left it vulnerable to punctures and tears. But what was most distracting were the pronounced creases running horizontally across the entire painting, as a result of many years of being rolled tightly and improperly stored. The study consisted of three panels stitched together to form an image measuring 112 x 115. The first step in the conservation process was the removal of the machine stitching along the seams and trimming of the excess fabric in between to enable Lowy conservators to treat each of the panels individually in what was then a much more manageable size. Examination revealed the paint surface to be extremely dry due to the absorption of the oil medium into the unprimed canvas support, which also showed signs of oil stains on the verso. Luckily the surface remained stable with a minimal amount of airborne grime that could be safely removed from the paint layer. Eliminating severe surface distortions like bulges, buckling and creases throughout the artwork required treating the canvases with humidity and heat under pressure on a vacuum hot table. The panels were then lined to a single linen canvas using BEVA 371 (a thermoplastic adhesive) applied to a Pe-cap (polyester textile used for reinforcement and ease of reversibility) and mylar interlayer (used to prevent the seams from lifting away from the new auxiliary supports).
Throughout the structural process, attention to the elimination of the panels’ seamededges were of primary concern in an attempt to unify the image as a single picture. Remaining narrow gaps in between the seams were filled using a reversible vinyl gesso and inpainted with pigments mulled in an acrylic resin. Finally, the restored mural was stretched, framed, and ready to be installed. Winold Reiss’ animated shapes and colors now can be viewed reflecting the vibrancy and innovation so characteristic of the Art-Deco tradition.