One of this columns most frequent suggestions is don't be afraid to purchase items in "weathered" condition. My theory is that obvious signs of wear and deterioration can be useful tools in discerning legitimate antiques from fakes. And occasionally, such pieces can be had at bargain prices. If you have taken this advice too much to heart and now have a house that looks like Herman Munster and Mortica Adams were the decorators, here's good news. It's OK to have your antiques restored-providing you employ a pro. Oscar and Debra Perez of Vigues Art Studio Gallery in Woodbury, CT (203-263-4088) are nationally respected conservation and restoration artists of paper, glass, ceramics, frames, and paintings. Let's visit them for an Antique Talk.
Q. What do you think about purchasing an old painting in rough condition?
A. It is best to buy things in good condition. If there is some dirt, etc., that is good too. As long as the damages are not in the subject of the picture. If it is a portrait, it is better not to buy anything that is damaged in the face or hands of the subject. Any damage in the background does not matter too much because the repairs will not impact on the artist's technique.
Q. Tell me about old frames.
A. We get many period frames. Frames have become, in the last few years, important and valuable. We cast the museum ornament and re-gild, matching the frame's tone. We try to preserve the original gold leaf and repair only what is necessary. We treat frames with the same respect we give to a picture.
Q. Suppose I buy an important painting in grungy musty surface. What should I do with it?
A. It should be cleaned right away.
Q. Shouldn't I leave it in the old surface, like I would a piece of furniture.
A. No. You need to remove the old varnish. The varnish is the protecting layer. It protects the painting from ultraviolet light and sulfur and dirt in the atmosphere and becomes yellow over time. We use a varnish now that doesn't yellow and is easy to remove for the next restorer. Old varnish will begin to shrink and crack and rise and eventually it will begin to pull the paint off the canvas or artist's board.
Q. Won't cleaning make th painting look new.
A. An old painting that is cleaned will never look new because it has an old pigment and old technique. Early artist's grinded their own pigment. The grain of paint from the old masters is bigger than the grain of paint today, which is made in machines. It is more even. Early colors are colors from the earth. Old paintings have a beautiful technique and deep rich colors you cannot find today.
Q. From how far away does work reach you?
A. Texas, Ohio, Washington State, even Alaska.
Q. I've heard people refer to you and Debra as master restorers.
A. I don't like the word master, and let me tell you why. I see many advertising: "Master Gilder, Master Restorer, etc." I think the masters are all dead. We are restorers. After we die, then we are the masters!