Archive: February 27, 2016

Time to say thank you

As we start to pack our bags, this first phase of the Restorers without Frontiers project has almost come to an end. The final piece is the dinner to be hosted by His Grace the Archbishop tomorrow night with all the students.

On behalf of all those who have taken part in this extraordinary fulfilling and life changing experience, I would like to thank His Grace Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao for having invited us to the all embracing care of the Archbishop’s House. We were given a fabulous big meeting room turned into a functional studio which spilled into the garden on one side and an inner courtyard on the other, which students accessed with immense pleasure.

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Now that the first leg of teaching is at an end, and after a few days off to go and visit Hampi, I have had some time to think back and reflect on what we have achieved.

Throughout the world since the beginning of visual art, there has been restoration of paintings, or sadly more often repainting of paintings. The 1966 flood in Florence saw many priceless artworks retrieved from the floodwaters in appalling conditions due to water, mud and oil amongst other things. It was a turning point for the ethos of conservation. There was to be no more repainting,  but instead minimal treatments which allowed what was original to stand out. I was fortunate to have as my teachers and mentors the main restorers from the flood, who had to learn to salvage these works of art. This has enabled me to conserve and subsequently teach conservation/restoration in London to students coming from all over the world.

On a previous trip to Old Goa I became aware of how much work was needed to preserve the multitude of art pieces. I felt the need to share how best to preserve our global heritage for future generations, and to pass on my thirty five years of knowledge and experience. I approached Father Loiola and very kindly, after speaking to His Grace Felipe Neri, we were invited to set up a programme similar to the one which we have been running in London for the last 20 years.

The task of starting to conserve a collection which is in precarious condition due to extensive repainting is by no means a project on which to embark lightly. With the help of 2 colleagues with extensive experience and 5 current students from around the world, we started teaching our level 2 City and Guilds programme to eight local Goan students.

The work and the written projects by the students in Goa speak for themselves –  they will be presented to the City and Guilds in London for assessment. This is a start to conservation where minimal intervention with reversible treatments are used at all times. I am confident that the students are following the ethos of conservation which is to preserve their heritage.

It has been an exhausting trip but worthwhile for the commitment and work done by local young conservators. It has been a full-on programme necessary to understand what conservation is, and our motto is ‘less is more’. We set out before we arrived with three aims – to conserve, to teach and to leave a legacy. I feel that we have achieved this, and set the foundations for future work. The students are by no means fully fledged restorers, but they have a very good understanding of their limitations.

Let us hope that the concept of Restorers without Frontiers can become a reality and that other restorers from around the globe will join in, take part and give their time and expertise to help conservation wherever it may be needed. We need to work together by communicating, sharing and above all commitment.



Last day as students

10 o’clock and the studio is empty apart from Georgina who greets me cheerfully, she looks at home and she is getting a very slight colour. The students have been told very clearly to bring their last core unit project and finish all the restoration on the statues and tidy up all the loose ends.

By 10.30 the clock is ticking and the students trickle in one by one, not even two by two. Milena is looking gorgeous in one of her bright outfits and is already telling us what needs to be done on all her projects, she seems to have brought half  of Goa’s heritage which has been lying I am not quite sure where – but neither a dry nor a clean place in one of her outbuildings. She informs us that her ivory/wood polychrome statue needs to be gilded, her 18th century Madonna and child painting surface dirt remove and so on. I see that it is going to be going another very busy day.

By lunch time the paintings have all been varnished and are looking splendid. The students have not all appeared as they are busy finishing their core unit although no creative piece for the core unit has materialized. Clearly ‘Houston’ is not receiving the messages (think space programme and messages from the moon)! Elizabeth has gone to see Rita who is a conservator specializing in polychrome statues. She saw what problems she had to battle with (extreme overpaint, limited resources, high humidity and heat among other things).

Sebastian appears having spotted a copperhead barbet and a lesser goldenback, it is their last day. We go and have lunch at our favourite cafe, Sensorium and the boys decide to show off on the scooter together for a last time.

The students still have NOT produced their artwork but are all here smiling and busy showing each other what they have worked on. Houston is asleep I am afraid. I am now threatening them. I know how exhausted they are, how they work at night on other jobs and on their projects, but I need to push them a little further.

At 3 we meet the Archbishop His Grace Felipe Neri, his secretary our angel Father Loiola, Father Valerian and Father Manuel to discuss our achievements and how to go forward. This includes how to create an inventory, a guide to conservation/preservation of Churches and our future commitment. Elizabeth and Sebastian have a few minutes to meet the Archbishop and leave to catch their plane. The meeting was essential and fruitful to the future of Goa’s heritage.

The project in Panjim has come an end. The paintings of the first 7 Archbishops of Goa are ready to go back on the wall above the throne. My students are no longer just students but young conservators ready to help preserve and start the basic conservation of their heritage. Tomorrow they will start their new journey with a test clean of some art work in the Seminary of Rachol.

We have the finishing line in sight!

The day started with Eveny and Conrad at 7 o’clock bird watching at Britano. It was pure joy to have experts showing us some of the 450 species of birds which inhabit these shores.

At 10 we had our usual theory and explained the types of varnishes and the practical side of making a varnish be it natural or synthetic. This was followed by all the students final retouching of their Archbishop and brushing their inner frame which had been gilded under the ever watchful eyes of Elizabeth. Incredible but true but by 5 o’clock all the Archbishops were reunited to their frames (thanks to Caetano’s  drill as the wood was so dense that nails could not be hammered into the frame)

Georgina our last English student has arrived at the weekend tired and slightly anxious.  Despite her best instructions the taxi had dropped her at the Archbishop’s House instead of the nuns’ Convent at seven in the morning when no-one was around, but Ruthie finally found her and took her under her wing. The first day she was overwhelmed by jetlag, by what was going on in the studio (the scale of projects to be completed) and by the hustle and bustle of India. By day two, having organized herself and once she realised that the motorised rickshaw taxis  were safe despite not having safety belts, she is now a natural. She  goes from treatment to treatment with a great smile and enthusiasm,  executing each task to perfection.Thanks to her bringing some of the ingredients in her suitcase we made Italian relining paste (I am sure a first in India) to reline Milena’s painting.
Every student who has joined from London ( Joanna, Anna, Jenny, Ruthie, Zuraida and Georgina) has been brilliant and all their interventions have been successful and greatly appreciated by the Archbishops and local Goan students. When each one leaves they are sorely missed – they might not appreciate how much they have achieved in such short a time, but each one has  had a significant impact. What is fascinating is they all came at the right time: Anna shrunk, strip lined, cleaned,consolidated, Joanna cleaned, consolidated, filled and retouched, Jenny,  Zuraida and Georgina jumped in where needed moving with great ease from one project to another, Ruthie was a real star in so many ways and Elizabeth has brought it all together with her wonderful smile and no-nonsense attitude and is always encouraging. Many thanks to my resident wallah blogger Sebastian for yesterday’s wonderful blog!

Unfortunately today Elizabeth returns to London after having spent 10 days gilding everything on site and more if we had let Milena, Rhea, Eveny, Wynzel, Manu and Sandesh loose! She has managed to remove the old overpaint on the last Archbishop’s cassock with Wynzel (which I had not been able to shift), and together with the ever enterprising Joseph who dyed the relining canvas,  restretched Milena’s  early 18th century Madonna and Child and so much more besides. I have no words to express my gratitude to all of them, but suffice it to say that everybody’s efforts have paid off, the portraits are going up next week and they look fantastic.


“They also serve who only stand and wait” – with thanks to our guest editor Sebastian Roberts

One of the many delights of being married to a picture (“and frame” she would remind me) restorer (“and conserver, first and foremost “) is that her work, so absorbing and painstaking, gives me lots of time for reflection – and contributing to this blog.

Sebastiano GiardinoSo this edition is respectfully dedicated to the spouses, partners,families and friends of “the restorers without frontiers”. Milton’s words make a suitable motto for all of us who have the honour of following and sharing the agony and the ecstasy of picture (AND frame!) restoration and conservation. This morning for instance, I was innocently enjoying the flora and fauna of the Archbishop of Goa’s beautiful garden, reflecting as I spied a pair of Indian Golden Orioles, that St Francis probably loved the birds as much as they loved him, when I heard the call of my own beloved. I responded with all the speed possible in a man with a pair of binoculars who spots a Brown-headed Barbet, a Black Drongo and a pair of Red-whiskered Bulbuls en route, and a mere 7 minutes later asked how I could help.

“The students have been working very hard” she said in the sort of low but penetrating voice that librarians use to rebuke people who talk in the carrells. Her words were full of import; I picked up at least two unstated messages: first, the teachers hadn’t been slacking much either, and second, I HAD. “They need sustenance. Something sweet for energy. Carrot cake would be popular.”

Realising that this was not the moment to ask just how many calories one exhausted stroking a couple of nanograms of gold leaf onto a 17th century Saint with a squirrel hair brush (the mere wind from the whack I would so richly deserve would blow tens of thousands of rupees worth all over the cloister), I employed the invaluable ruse of the selectively deaf: “I’ve had an idea darling: why don’t I go and get you all some carrot cake?” “Don’t you ever listen? That’s just what I said!” “Oh good: great minds think alike.” “I wish you’d get a hearing aid! Now just run along and get something delicious: we need it for elevenses.”

I shimmied out of the door into the cloister like an Argentine dancing-master, leaving as little wake as a marine special forces midget submarine, to avoid disturbing the gold leaf, the students engrossed in cleaning with exquisite tenderness the hands, faces and vestments of the first 7 Archbishops of Goa, or my beloved, who was looking quite disturbed enough already. Ten minutes (and an exquisite Plum-headed Parakeet in the treetops above the road to the excellent gallery-cum-cafe next door) later I was trying to persuade the manager to part with his day’s supply of carrot cake. I’m not certain if it was my silver tongue or my silver, but after a negotiation lasting only another 5 minutes, I was carrying the last carrot cake in Panjim triumphantly back to the exhausted and ravenous conservers.

Delayed only by a Rufous Treepie (a glamorous relation of the Common Magpie) I made it back to the atelier with seconds to spare before 11 o’clock, and made a grand entrance: “it’s the box-wallah” I announced, to a stony silence. The whole class, students and teachers, were engrossed in the pearly wisdom of Caterina, which was being filmed for posterity. If looks could kill, the carrot cake and I would now be six feet under, pushing up the Goan equivalent of daisies. I beat a hasty tactical retreat into the Archbishop’s garden, to commune again with the barbets, bulbuls and drongos.

Hey-Ho, I could be in England, cold and wet: being a restoration camp-follower in Goa beats it into a cocked hat…and they all loved the carrot cake.

Behold the Heritage – O Heraldo Sunday Review

O Heraldo pdfThe article below appeared yesterday (Sunday) but we did not hear about it until today!
By Vishal Rawlley
Goa has a fair share of tourists visiting its heritage sites. After they have “done” all the beaches, they descend in busloads and scooters to visit the churches, temples and forts. Still in their beach wear – bright floral clothes, flip flops, goggles and hats – they take a quick ‘selfie’, share it on social, light a candle, have a snack, throw the packet and a can around, and they are “done” with this too.
To make this process even more efficient the tourism department is planning on air dropping tourists from hot air balloons, helicopters, and ropeways. For the tourists, they realize, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
As such, these heritage destinations benefit in no way from the hordes of tourists visiting them. Huge crowds visit the Portuguese-era churches of Goa. These 16th-17th churches are still in use: services are held and ceremonies are performed regularly. These churches have several original and priceless paintings and sculptures adorning its interiors. These lie quietly tarnishing in a corner,or have been overzealously restored in garish colours. The tourist parade marches past all this, stopping briefly, only for a ‘selfie’.
But there was one visitor who could not just walk past all this. Caterina Goodhart was making a casual visit to Goa on a holiday. But the state of the neglected heritage stunned her. She is, after all, a restorer by profession, with more than 30 years of experience, and runs the London School of Picture and Frame Restoration. She wanted to do something to restore this valuable heritage. She decided to meet with the church authorities. They welcomed her and appreciated her concern. Over the course of a year, a plan was formulated.
Another organization at the forefront of heritage conservation in Goa, Fundação Oriente, became a partner in this program. Maria Inês Figueira, the director of the institute, feels that this heritage does not just belong to Goa. As a Portuguese person living in Goa, she too can relate to it very much. “It is part of world heritage. Conserving this should be an international effort,” she says.
Fundação Oriente invited Rita Gordo, a young restorer and conservationist from Portugal, to join this program. Rita had earlier done some voluntary restoration work in Goa and was familiar with the situation. However, in Goa, the small number of restorers compared to its vast heritage is hugely disproportionate. Where does one start?
Fr. Joaquim Loiola Pereira, from the Bishop’s palace, was the key driver of this program. He suggested that they first start with the Portrait Gallery of the Archbishops of Goa next to his office- with Caterina Goodhart taking charge, along with some of her students from London. St. Michael’s Church in Taleigao was chosen as the other site – thanks to the enthusiasm shown by their Socio Cultural Centre. Rita Gordo was chosen to work here. 
But how much can a handful of restorers do in just a few weeks?
With the key things in place, the problem of shortage of trained craftspersons was handled with the most ingenious solution. It was decided to ask volunteers to apply to become part of the conservation effort though a workshop program. It is one of the most unique efforts of this kind in the world!
“Something of this sort cannot be imagined in Europe,” Caterina Goodhart testifies. A group of trainees were to work hands-on, handling original heritage pieces, under the guidance of limited number of experts. But given the ad hoc process happening otherwise, this was still a much better option. Rita Gordo agrees that it was a daunting task, but she felt that “even if I could convert one person, I would have made a start.” And when they did start, there was no stopping.
The motely of workshop participants that finally assembled turned out to be a rather special bunch of people. Who dreams of spending three weeks of their time working painstakingly, without incentive, to clean grime, scrape paint and fill cracks? There came a businessman from Mumbai, a student from Bangalore, a merchant navy officer, a retired bank employee, and artists, sculptors, designers and architects from Goa. Allof varied ages and experience. But none of them were prepared for what they underwent. 
Deborah, a senior artist, loves to paint on old wood, but spent more time peeling off layers of plastic emulsion from badly restored sculptures. But for her it was “magical to see the original shades show through”. Sandesh, a young painter, learned so much about the history of the painting process. “More than what I learned in all my years at art school,” he said. Liza, a dexterous crafts person, had to re-learn to wield familiar tools.“I had to adjust to the idea of becoming a conserver, instead of a creator.” Rhea, a young architect, has discovered so many insights that she says “I now look at historical art in a whole new way. There are so many layers of meaning and context in each work.” Karen, a successful interior designer, has learned a lot about organic pigments and the property of natural materials. “I would like to employ this rich information in my contemporary work,” she says. But none of them had imagined that the workshop would be so rigorous and so rewarding. Working on these ancient sacred art pieces “has been a blessing” for every one of them.
The expert restorers have been more than giving. They have pushed the limits of what can be achieved if one can train and motivate a good team. They have had to ride over cultural differences and inculcate a different work ethic. They have had to find alternative solutions when plans have not worked out. “In this profession there are no shortcuts,” say Rita. “If you do something wrong, you have to just re-do it all over again.” Caterina has made sure that the students “not only know how to do a certain process, but also know why they are doing it.”The restorers have made sure that things are as thorough as can be. This workshop has gifted Goa a new crop of personnel well informed in the conservation and restoration process.
The restored pieces look very different from what they were. The dullness and grime is gone, the colours look fresh but also natural, and the gold leaf has a sheen that is rich but not gaudy. There is altogether a different aura that has emerged. The restored pieces exude a sober dignity and subtle sublimity, which has almost vanished. The faithful shall now certainly have a new relationship with these holy objects. These have always adorned their places of worship, but now they look resplendent in all their glory. Perhaps the lay tourist may also notice this: the magnificent antiquity presented in its “original” form. And when you absorb with your eyes and observe with your mind, time stops. You lose your ‘self’ and forget the ‘selfie’.
(Vishal Rawlley is a media professional and urban documentarian. He creates public interventions using art and media to encourage community participation in civic issues. He has been a recipient of several grant and fellowships in areas of urban research and community building)

Weekend preparing work, and bird watching

The clock is ticking and we are confident all the students are working on their written work (you should see the emails on ‘restoration artists’ a WhatsApp joined by all the students). The message sent by Sandesh ‘anyone completed assignment…’ all the other phones happened to be out of range!

We are trying to find the Italian relining paste recipe which I forgot in London and Georgina who arrived Saturday has brought the right flours but we shall try with local flours to compare so that when we are gone they can make it themselves. Very exciting. We must use methods that will be reversible and also sympathetic to the climate.

While Ruthie has volunteered to stay in the Archbishop’s House and retouch the extensively damaged painting with Caetano (this is his project), Elizabeth, Sebastian, Christopher and I went to purchase linen canvas in Mapusa – a very colourful market. With two pairs of binocular we then scoured the North of Goa landscape for indigenous birds. in three days we spotted over 78 species, very thrilling.


Eveny (one of the students) has invited us to her house to meet her partner Conrad, see her very accomplished work (pastel, wood burning, acrylic, multi media). Conrad is also an amazing artist and with extraodinary paintings of  birds, and we then indulged in more bird  watching near her house. What an experience.


Friday’s guest editor is the wonderful Ruth Bothwell

Finally Caterina and Christopher have gone off for some down time this weekend as it has been a roller coaster week of lectures, students on going course projects along with planning future projects! I don’t know how Caterina can keep up with it all but she just does! A Blessing for all of us all undoubtedly!
So lovely to see Elizabeth again, she is an outstanding gilder and and teacher for years, we are privileged to have her here. The students have now completed their gilding unit and the studio is gleaming with their gold and silver carved relief mouldings.
Zuraida is spending the weekend with her parents who have come all the way from Malaysia to visit her. She has been so great this week, retouching beautifully and helping the students to perfect their techniques also. Melina’s very beautiful stature of Out Lady is almost finished! An epic project that took endless care and patience, well done Melina! It was so worth it! Thanks to Zuraida for her help also.
Caetano 1
As there is no class today, I took the opportunity to quietly spend the morning retouching as there is still so much work to do! So continued retouching of gesso filled Portrait No 1. The multi problem one ! Remember this canvas was painstakingly removed from its inappropriate disintegrating backing board by student Caetano some weeks ago. The canvas has had a very successful reline, left now are many hours of retouching!
Caetano came to the studio to catch up on his course work as he missed a day this week.he gilded his carved relief and completed retouching his statue of Our Lord and applied 23.5 ct gold leaf to areas of loss. It’s amazing as this piece was in many pieces to begin with now it’s a fine example of a well conserved polychrome statue. Excellent work !
Caetano 3
Luckily for me I got invited to a great lunch in a local haunt in Panjai, very yummy! Thanks Caetano. Georgina the last of our lot arrived tomorrow for the last leg of the project. Yikes a log to achieve next week! Georgina’s help will be very necessary.

The Seminary of Rachol

This morning we left Elizabeth to finish the core unit with the students, while Father Loiola, Ruthie, Christopher, Sebastian and I piled in the car to go down south to the Seminary of Rachol. It took over an hour which passed quickly as we soaked in the ever bright green paddy fields, the portuguese style dwellings, the ever present myriad of birds not to mention the odd pig and monkey.

Rachol is the biggest and most renowned seminary in Goa, once surrounded by a moat with its front gate still standing. As we entered we could feel presence and imposing importance of the past, it had 700 Seminarists at one time, today it has 93 Seminarists.

We saw the most exquisite small murals depicting hell, purgatory, heaven and hell as well as the portrait of two Saints in the entrance hall, in bad need of restoration but thankfully untouched. As we proceeded the visit we saw painting after painting disintegrating, murals fading, several altars covered in grime but thankfully they all seemed to have had little aggressive restoration.  It is a mammoth task but next week on Friday the students and I will go to test clean a few small areas to see if the Rector would like to proceed with an initial project of conservation by the students (only dirt surface removed and consolidation) of a few pieces. Ruthie will hopefully come next year to start the conservation of the murals.

We returned to the Archbishop’s House in time for lunch which is lovingly prepared by the nuns – rice, goan curry, vegetables, fish and fruit. Milena brought us some delicious coconut in syrup with raisins and nuts, Manu fantastic prawn croquettes and so we eat discussing paintings, food, birds,deadlines, exotic fruits but not the weather.

We are now all completely focused on finishing 6 paintings and conserving 4 more. We have at least 9 statues of various sizes almost finished. 2 gilded ornament one from Rachol and one from Father Mansueto to surface clean. The estimate and the projects to complete. I have to say that with Elizabeth, Ruthie and Zuraida guiding them we are hopeful and upbeat.

No time for a joke today but later we will post photographs including a bird we saw last night.


Elizabeth is holding the Fort on Ash Wednesday

Ruthie, Christopher and I decided to explore Anjuna market today (only Wednesday) and Elizabeth is going next week. It is quite a drive, considering the detour we had to undertake with great patience and skill from our driver. Signs like  ‘road closed’ do not mean anything and so everyone is on a dirt single track with no concept of stop, go back, wait orbe patient. C. got out of the car and directed the traffic to get us out of an impossible  pickle. We finally got there and the most striking feature is undoubtedly the bright colours against the most perfect blue sky that any painter could imagine. We each came back satisfied with one small purchase.

Back at the the House, Elizabeth was finishing the demonstration of the application of silver on board, and then the students were let off to create their own interpretation of a small gilded mirror frame for the core unit of our syllabus.

The studio was looking much tidier thanks to Joanna (last three weeks) and Zuraida who noticed yesterday morning than we had gone slightly messy and untidy after the hard and stressful work on the statue. I do have to say that every two hours one of us will take the broom for a walk and sweep after a messy treatment, and the students are now aware of health and safety on premises.

Sebastian (Elizabeth’s husband) is an expert on bird watching and is showing us the birds he has spotted on the day, and guess what… so far the most spectacular ones seems to be in the Archbishops’ Gardens. We must try better when in the garden brushing off the front or back of the painting, and look up from time to time!

We have had the best stuffed crab ever at Venite, the owner Luis unbeknownst to us turned out to be a friend of Eveny, one of our students.