Collaborative Efforts of ICA

September 20th, 2012 Posted in Art, Galleries/Museums/Exhibits, Mosaics, Ohio City

Love and passion- in a different sort of way. That is what one needs to possess in order to carry out the incredibly detailed and tedious work that the scientists/artists of the ICA perform every day.
Meet the folks of the Intermuseum Conservation Association, the first regional, non-profit art conservation/preservation center in the United States.

ICA’s current home and the former Vitrolite building

Located on the Oberlin campus for its first fifty years, ICA moved into their present location on Detroit Road and W.29th Street in 2003, a building built in in 1926 as the Cleveland showroom and warehouse for Vitrolite (pigmented glass). One first notices the exterior beauty of their white terracotta glazed building (covered here). But once you step inside their nondescript steel doors in the back of the building (and across the street from The Transformer Station rapidly going up), you enter a different world. It would have to be described as part museum, with both amazing and humble works of art carefully positioned for restoration and repair, and part laboratory. Each of ICA’s employees earned an advanced degree in art conservation. Each has their own specialty, but all assist others in projects requiring many sets of hands.

The ICA serves many groups. It was originally founded in 1952 by the directors of six major Midwestern museums to provide their art conservation services. It has progressed today to not only serve institutions, but also private collections and individuals. “Works of art” can have a wide definition: antiquities, contemporary art, architectural items, personal treasures, cultural objects.

Education and public outreach are an important component of the ICA’s mission. Tours are offered by appointment, on-site surveys and inspections are offered to institutions, and preservation workshops and lectures are offered to the public at large and to artists around the country. ICA is an advocate for art at risk. Teaching the public how to care for a collection is an important part of being a proponent for the country’s artistic heritage.

On a random day, a Football Hall of Fame jacket’s lambskin collar was being worked on in the textile area upstairs and a Civil War era flag was spread out downstairs. Moving further along, at one glance one could see an Old Masters painting, a rounding board panel from Coney Island’s B&B Carousell (built in 1919), a WPA painting found in a dumpster and a silver tray about to be re-plated. The staff has the unique privilege of not only working on a large variety of art works, but are also in the position to see what the work of art looked like while the artist himself worked on it. With the frame removed and the raw edges exposed, it is almost as if they are working along side the artist. Possible steps in the restoration process can include: stabilizing the damaged areas, cleaning, removal of old varnish layers, filling in where necessary and in-painting of cracked areas.

The B&B Carousell’s rounding board above.
Lower left- edge before; lower right- edge after


Old varnish (reddish/brown area) is being removed from a B&B Carousell chariot back.

Each item has to carefully inventoried and photographed, with a plan of action discussed and recorded for future reference. All of the restorations need to be carried out so that they are totally reversible. The records need to be precise, so that when a museum needs to attend to the same work of art in fifty years, its history will be easily accessible. For the amount of pieces that go through the ICA every year (300-350), that documentation is quite a feat in itself. An ailing work of art can take months and months of diligent attention to bring it to its best condition.

A Civil War era flag’s shattered silk fibers being repaired. Inset is the area above the eagle.

The ICA also offers members storage in their constantly monitored, state-of-the-art facility with 24-hour security. Many museums take advantage of this offer, as well as private individuals who may be moving and do not want to place their paintings at risk.

Archaeological illustrator, Maria Barosso, painted twenty-one nearly life-size paintings that depict the famous fresco cycle at the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. They were painted between 1925 and 1927. After their ICA restoration, they now reside in the Kelsey Museum of the University of Michigan.

We mentioned here that the building was originally created as the Cleveland showroom for Vitrolite, the structural glass company that made opaque glass infused with pigment. When the building was purchased, they were unaware of the Vitrolite connection as the showroom’s walls and ceiling had totally covered up the glass panels. During the construction, they soon discovered the treasure beneath the walls, as well as a multitude of glass panels that had been stored away.  The showroom is the last one remaining of its kind in the country. The ICA hopes to raise the funds to restore the space for use as an educational and public meeting space. It promises to be a stunning room.

A drawing of the original Vitrolite showroom


Tile remnants remaining in the Vitrolite showroom,
currently awaiting restoration before becoming an educational and public meeting space.

The ICA is modestly celebrating its sixtieth birthday this year. The ICA website will not only provide information on how to support this non-profit organization, it will no doubt inspire you as you look at the many projects they have worked on over the years. An online exhibit will also be launched late this fall with individual pieces featured in detail.

ICA is a treasured resource for the community and one that Cleveland is proud to have within its borders. It is definitely one of Cleveland’s treasures to be supported.

Intermuseum Conservation Association (ICA)
2915 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44113



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