Costa Rica is preparing to celebrate 200 years of independent life. Various objects and artworks that tell the history of these two centuries are also preparing for the festival: they are scheduled to be exhibited on May 26 at the National Museum.
Behind the preparation of these paintings, sculptures, and even the army’s weapons we had before, there are dozens of specialists in history, art, restoration, and various sciences who strive for the utmost preservation of every piece in the gallery.
When we visit a museum, we usually see a very small percentage of the work that is being done there. Not only is there an element of exhibition and publication of art or history, there are also other elements that go unnoticed in the eyes of the public, but are of vital importance to the historical memory of any place.
Outside of its exhibition rooms, the National Museum investigates the history of the country through various things, learns about how art was made in different periods, and is being restored and investigated. All this is necessary so that we not only admire the exhibits when visiting us, but also learn from them.
Nation Visit the center where the stocks are located, in Papas, and see how the restoration and restoration workshops are preparing for the Bicentennial Exhibition.
Specialists have chosen three very different things that allow us to narrate the history of these years and detail their conservation process for Costa Rica to see.
Upon arriving at the workshop, we awaited a painting and sculpture with a farmer’s bust and a cannon with highly advanced technology for her time.
“These three combine very specialized knowledge of chemistry, materials and technologies,” said Gabriela Villalobos Madrigal, historian and curator of the National Museum.
The story is told through a board
We climbed some stairs to get to the place where a painting that had been finishing was waiting for us to be seen by Costa Ricans.
This is a work of art that tells the history of our country but can be seen by foreign eyes. This is a very European view of the landscape, says Villalobos.
One of these concepts, for example, is that it is assumed that part of the landscape of the capital was a coffee plantation, and the one described looks more like a vineyard.
“Every action counts because of what it tells us and what it doesn’t tell us, it’s always important: their voices and their silence,” he sums up.
The historian recounts that this piece shows a view of San Jose from east to west, as if the painter was in the Cemetery of the Aliens, on Calle 20, in the heart of the capital.
The cemetery of foreigners also contains an important element in history. This was created because the Catholic Church did not allow non-Catholics to be buried in their cemeteries. Therefore, the British Consul established this cemetery and assigned two Englishmen to manage and care for it.
There is no date or author for this pictorial work, but due to the location of the La Merced Church in the painting, Villalobos assumes it was painted before it was moved, so it must have been prior to 1850.
Hence, it was not a coffee farm, nor did the capital have such kind of roads. It’s a quote from a very European view of San Jose, “he notes.
Preparing this painting for the public to appreciate has not been easy. Alfredo Duncan Davis, the museum’s restorer, comments that it took three months of work because it really required a laborious process.
For example, upon arriving at the workshop, the first thing that was noticed was that it was treated with beeswax to avoid cracking the dyes, but in the process it was not cleaned before taking this step and it actually affected it.
“When they did the restoration with beeswax, they weren’t keen on cleaning the job, so you can see a stain. There were a lot of details in the work that weren’t quite clear,” Duncan noted.
Another major problem is that the wood pillar was eaten by termites, and this is starting to affect the fabric.
Duncan and his team went to work on a process that lasted three months. The restorer said it could have been less, but there are many works that are in the process of being restored at the same time and they all require a lot of attention.
The first step was to make a diagnosis of how the piece was deteriorating and to know what measures should be taken to keep it repaired and restored to the public.
Once the job was “diagnosed”, a mechanical cleaning was done to remove whatever was not relevant to it and stick to it over time.
“From this,” said Duncan, “the remains of bats, flies, moisture and” paint sticks “were removed.
Next comes the chemical cleaning. It starts with mild chemicals and, if necessary, stronger chemicals. In this case it was not necessary.
At the end of this, details come, a setting layer is put in, and touches and colors begin to give it new life.
The work is also treated with beeswax. According to Duncan, newer technologies no longer do this “hot” (with higher temperatures) and this can be done “cold,” which harms the paint to a lesser degree.
Next to Duncan, Alonso Silva Gonzalez, a restoration assistant, was putting the finishing touches on what he considers “the spirit of painting,” because no one sees it, but what he preserves: behind the scenes.
“They are not tires, a solid tire. Tires have wedges that can be opened to adapt with the passage of time,” he explained.
Silva asserts that over time, it is normal for the canvas to “breathe” and can “swell” or “sag.” After that, the racks are opened with the help of pegs and the canvases are tightened so that they are fastened.
“If the work does not have a frame, then it is a loose canvas. If the frame is bad for drawing then it makes a” belly “and” hanging “because it cannot be stretched.
The first remnants of secular art
Another work chosen is a bust of Casemiro Zamora. Villalobos comments that he was a peasant with a certain purchasing power, as he was able to pay for a work of art.
It dates from around 1870 and was made by a Costa Rican artist who was influenced by Guatemalan art. His name was Juan Mora Gonzalez.
However, the historian highlights one more important thing: this work is vital in Costa Rican history because it corresponds to the early works of secular art, in which there is no religious component, something special during the beginning of the nineteenth century.
“After independence, there is a cultural secular process,” he said. “We can read that in some artworks.”
The restoration of this work was simpler than the painting and took only two to three weeks. Restorer Sophia Jimenez explained that, in any case, several steps must be taken.
The first is a general review, in which the damage is assessed and what needs to be done. After that, it is mechanically cleaned to remove dirt and dust.
Whereas, the passage of time and moisture causes some parts to fall off or “crack”.
Based on this, pastes or layers are made of the necessary color to compensate for the damage. Some parts are also combined with a mixture of rubber and water that is applied into grooves or loose spaces.
In this way, the work is kept the same looking.
“Skin looks smooth and realistic because it works in parts and layers. Real skin shades and highlights, it is not a” paste “of colors. We have to preserve all of that,” he stressed.
The latest weapons technology
It is not possible to recount the history of Costa Rica without talking about the stage when we had an army and weapons.
One of the “star bodies” is a cannon that dates back to between 1870 and 1875. That was when Thomas Guardia was president; On a plate at the back of the barrel you can read “Presidente Guardia”.
In coordinating this object, Villalobos was supported by Fernando Leighton, who has extensive knowledge of the history of weapons.
According to Leitón, in this valley there is a technology that was considered the most recent at that time. In this case, bullets are not loaded into the “barrel” of the barrel, instead, there is a system that allows them to be loaded from behind.
It was taken over by one of the most important arms manufacturers, the German company Krupp. Villalobos explained that the person who invented this entry system may have at some point wanted to sell the technology.
“Its importance is not only for Costa Rica, it is global. It is very difficult to find a piece of this type before it is sold to the German company,” he added.
How do you keep a weapon like this? Duncan commented that it should be submerged in water for several days and treated with chemicals to remove any damage caused by the passage of time and make it ready for the public’s eyes.