39th Annual Meeting, ASG Morning Session, June 2nd, Student Papers, “Rediscovering an American Master: The analysis and proposed treatment of the decorative plaster ceiling of Robert Winthrop Chanler’s Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Studio, New York” Lauren Vollono Drapala, University of Pennsylvania

Lauren’s presentation introduced me to a true treasure hiding out in my downtown New York City neighborhood at 8 West 8th Street on Washington Square. In what was once the original location of the Whitney Museum lays the intimate studio retreat of patroness to the arts, Gertrude Vanderbilt.  Lauren’s focus on this room was to conduct historic research, assessment, analysis and documentation of the decorative ceiling created by artist Robert Winthrop Chanler.  What first appears as textured white plaster ceiling is actually a highly detailed bas relief plaster composition that still has some indications of paint. [PHOTO].   Like Angela’s Curmi’s talk before, Lauren knew there was an original decorative finish below the surface based on similar works by the artist, documentation, and cross-sectional analysis, but was having problems with accessibility to the paint after the ceiling had been overpainted white, most likely due to unaddressed failings of the plaster and paint over time.  Lauren’s goal was to eventually discover a means to safely remove the overpaint  and conserve the original paint below. I was rooting for her!


After creating high res photodocumentation of the ceiling, including an overall raking light image to accent the relief, Lauren mapped the condition and motif of the ceiling to aid with her investigation.  Lauren also visited other sites with similar work by the artist at Peebles Island and Vizcaya Museum to note pigments and decorative effects he employed at a similar time.  Lauren’s paint analysis [PHOTO]revealed that the newer layers of paint were bound more strongly to the original paint than the original paint was bound to its plaster substrate; the removal of the overpaint was not looking favorable.  Lauren was even given a detached portion of the ceiling to test  overpaint removal gels on, unfortunately with little success.


Following what looked to be a disappointing end to all of her hard work, Lauren took it a step further.  She made mock up panels of the ceiling based on her research and analysis to get a better idea of the surface then combined that information from her analysis to propose what it “May have once looked like”.  Here is the initial result of her efforts [PHOTO].  I’m still rooting for this project.  In the meantime if you are interested in learning more, read Lauren’s thesis: http://repository.upenn.edu/hp_theses/151/