Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Inge-Lise Eckmann Lane on the art of conservation

Express Staff Writer

In 1967, Inge-Lise Eckmann Lane was touring Italy with her mother when she saw people restoring sculptures in the streets of Florence. The previous year, the River Arno had spilled its banks, sending 20 feet of mud and debris through churches, museums and homes, destroying thousands of pieces of fine art in this Renaissance city.

“It was a real eye-opener for me about the work of art conservation,” Lane said. 

Three years later, while earning a degree in fine art from Bennington College in Vermont, Lane was back in Florence, watching an art conservator repair a gilded wooden statue by Donatello, dating from the 1400s.

“I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life,” said Lane, who now lives south of Ketchum with her husband, Pete Lane, a former art museum director and third-generation Wood River Valley resident. 

Inge-Lise Eckmann Lane earned a graduate degree in art conservation from the State University of New York at Cooperstown. Several years later, she was living and working in the Castro District in San Francisco when two men arrived at her studio in a U-Haul truck from Utah. They presented her with paintings made by the architect of the original Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City.

“I could see that they were oil paintings made over original watercolors,” she said. 

Lane was able to restore the watercolors only because the oil painter had laid down a layer of varnish before painting over them. 

“It took a lot of trust for them to leave the paintings with me,” she said.

Since that time, Lane has been entrusted with the cleaning, care and restoration of some of the most remarkable examples of 20th-century art. For 20 years, she served as chief conservator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, overseeing an internship program that prepared a new generation of conservators. 

Lane is president of the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art, an educational organization geared toward preserving modern art in all its forms, including painting, sculpture, digital media, plastics and wood.

“Any material is fair game for artists,” she said. “I enjoy the artisanal aspects of this work, but lately have become more involved in interviewing artists to find out what their priorities are important for their artistic legacies.

Lane recently worked as a consultant on the relocation of the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia and the collections of the Berkeley Art Museum. 

“My husband and I are dedicated to supporting collecting institutions for future generations,” she said. “If a museum collects something, they have a duty to preserve the piece within their collection.”

Art conservation was once considered a sideline business for artists, but the practice has changed a lot in the past 50 years, said Lane. 

“It has become more scientific,” she said. “Conservation is about the preservation of cultural resources. The emphasis is on preservation, but we also do restoration, which is more of an aesthetic process.”

Lane has traveled to private collections and museums to preserve and restore some of the most well-known paintings in the world, including a fresco mural by Diego Rivera and a large painting by Jackson Pollock titled “Cathedral,” with an estimated value of $100 million. 

“I spend a lot of time looking at artwork and get to know it very well,” said Lane. “Getting very close to art is one of the pleasures of what I do.” 

Lane said that after examining Pollock’s “Cathedral” very closely, she learned that Pollock, known as a “drip painter,” had a complex layering technique and often edited his drips with a brush. 

“Pollock’s paintings were not as haphazard as many people assume,” said Lane.

She was also impressed by the consummate skill and impressive daily workload of Diego Rivera, while restoring one of his large trompe l’oeil murals at the San Francisco Art Institute.

“He must have been a bull of a man to paint such a large wall of plaster in one day’s work, or ‘giornata.’ He could also paint portraits with great detail of real people living at the time, before the plaster dried.”

Lane first came to the Sun Valley area during the 1980s to restore a small patch of canvas in an abstract painting by Robert Motherwell belonging to Bill Janss. During a week spent in the area, she went cross-country skiing at Busterback Ranch in the Sawtooth Valley north of Ketchum. 

“I was taken by the beauty of this area,” she said.

 Lane and her husband travel widely, often visiting art museums. Occasionally she has a chance to revisit some of her early commissions. 

During a recent trip to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, she saw one of the restored watercolor paintings that had been brought to her studio nearly 40 years ago.

“It still looks good,” she said. 

Tony Evans:


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