Lansing Moore

Featured image
Lansing feeling a little underdressed, with two monumental portraits of actors from The Players: Booth as Cardinal Richelieu by John Collier on the left and, on the right, Jefferson as Bob Acres by John White Alexander. 

For forty years, Lansing Moore, the owner of Center Art Studio, has been restoring fine art and objects. Established in 1919, the studio is one of the oldest art conservation studios in New York. Moore, along with his team of highly-skilled conservators, have restored works by Picasso, Miro and Bonnard as well as many ancient sculptures and ceramic objects from various Chinese dynasties … not to mention a little clay disc bearing a pair of toddler’s handprints, American, circa 2010, that was shattered into thirty pieces. 

The thing I loved about your website was this idea that broken things can be fixed and old things can be renewed.

I’m delighted you took that away because at the risk of sounding mad, I think that there is something very consequential about what we do … it’s quite clear to me that we are living in a society that is inheriting great objects that were made by individual artisans and artists and were intended for interesting or sacred places and are now being cut up and destroyed. As a person who loves to work with his hands, I really respect that heritage of hand making—and it’s nice to see that younger people are back into that.

Treatment underway at the Center Art Studio.

You’re like the doctor for these objects!

Well yeah, but we don’t do anything that bleeds. 

It’s inherently optimistic, what you do, isn’t it?

Yes and no. It’s like I’m always glad when a species is saved from extinction but I’m depressed that some others weren’t. When the [Art Deco] caryatids were removed from in front of the old Bonwit Teller building or when the Picasso got moved from the Four Seasons, those were scandals. The Palm Restaurant had those walls with those great caricatures—now The New York Times reported that they were demolished and discarded because according to the developer, they could not be saved. Not true. In fact there are people who would have bought them and they would have made money out of them.

Annie Canning cleaning the Chase Portrait after Velazquez. Annie has worked at the studio during her time off from school for the last three years, in addition to studying in Italy and interning at the Guggenheim. Now that she has graduated we are trying to lure her back but we are getting stiff competition from the ski slopes.
Caryn Byllott cleaning antique picture frames. Caryn also got her degree, in Fabrication and Design, from the well-regarded art program at SUNY New Paltz. Her expertise includes 3D printing, project management and object conservation.
Kerry Joyce filling a tear in an antique Japanese screen showing the Tales of Genji. Kerry combines excellent technical ability with a degree in Classics (Ancient Greek and Etruscology) from Columbia. She is a technician and instructor at the archaeological excavations at Hadrian’s Villa in Italy.
Sara Barth Drew working at Bonham’s Madison Avenue gallery to repair some limited shipping damage on La danza di Salome by Andrea Marchisio.
Theodora Drew, Sara’s daughter, during her recent first visit to the studio. Theodora (Teddy to her friends) helps Sara review artwork for clients on the days when Sara works from home.
Grace Johnson removes old restorations from the background of another Neagle actor’s portrait, John Foote as Dr. Cantwell in The Hypocrite, from The Players Foundation Collection. Grace is a gifted conservator who counts the excavations at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli among her professional experiences. Since graduating from Columbia she has had a successful career as a painter, with several shows including at Mark Borghi Gallery, Greenpoint Gallery and the New York Studio School.
Kady Min Pu, who recently joined the team. Kady’s experience includes work at the excavation at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, like Grace and Kerry.
Working on location in Jamestown, Rhode Island to clean a mural painted in 1888 by William Trost Rochards over the fireplace of a house in which the artist lived for the summer. (From top: Caryn Byllott, Kerry Joyce, Tyler Lentini).
The team, from left: Melissa Barton, Tyler Lentini, Julieta Cardenas, Sara Barth Drew and Grace Johnson. Not shown here: Kerry Joyce. Recently Julieta left to pursue her interest in architecture. The studio has recently welcomed new team members Caryn Byllott and Kady Min Pu.

Do you think there’s a difference between America and Europe in terms of valuing these things?

I do, yeah. There are people who are not thoughtful about their heritage in Europe but they’re in the minority. For instance we have an Instagram account and we have gotten to know people and we’ve met a lot of restorers in Europe, in Iran, in Taiwan, in South America and I’m becoming aware of this core of people all around the world doing excellent work saving things. In Italy for instance they have a carefully managed and government-supported program of restoration, including guidelines on how to restore.

Yes, almost codifying it, perhaps?

It is. I don’t like to be told what to do but if they do, I’d at least like them to agree with me … and I agree with that [program]. The American Institute of Conservation is a strong organization and puts forward its point of view. I am not a member but I agree with them. You cannot plead ignorance to this sort of stuff.

Sometimes it helps to turn the work upside-down. Here conservator Julieta Cardenas treats John Duff as Marmion from the Neagle group.
Conservator Melissa Barton treating another Players actor portrait by Neagle, Mrs. Darley as Juliet. Melissa enters the Courtauld Institute in London this fall to complete their prestigious Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings.
Melissa removing yellowed varnish from Loss of the East Indiaman Admiral Garner on the Goodwin Sands by Thomas Buttersworth, from the collection of Richard Ember.
Treating paintings and ceramics at the main treatment table. On the left, conservator Tyler Lentini treats the frame of an early 19th c. ship portrait. Tyler brings his training in the BFA program at SUNY New Paltz and his experience working and exhibiting as a painter to the practice of conservation at Center Art Studio.
Detail of inpainting the frame using 23 ct. gold powder paint.
Senior Conservator Sara Barth Drew treating a 19th c. portrait of an actor from The Players Foundation Collection, Joe Cowell as Crack in “The Turnpike Gate” by John Neagle (1796 – 1865). Sara has worked at the studio since 2011. She takes a lead role in conservation and in the art advisory practice at the studio. Sara and Lansing restored the famous Eloise at the Plaza portrait by Hilary Knight before it went on exhibit at the New-York Historical Society.
In the forground, Sara inpaints British Men of War in a Gale by Thomas Buttersworth. On the right, Melissa works on the companion, Loss of the East Indiaman Admiral Garner on the Goodwin Sands (also by Thomas Buttersworth). Both paintings are from the Richard Ember Collection.
Luis Gonzales cleaning a picture frame.
Detail of the frame repair process.
Indispensable tools of the trade.

What about on a personal level when someone comes to you with their granny’s teapot?

I love those moments. Here’s a great example: We had a young woman come to me about ten years ago and I pick up the phone—she was clearly holding back tears. She said, “I have this thing which is not worth any money but it’s worth so much to me.” She came over right away and she had this little clay, grey disc with two handprints—they were her toddler’s handprints. Some person had knocked it off the shelf and broken it into, like thirty pieces. I said I can certainly take care of it but it’s going to take quite a few hours, so it’s going to be expensive. And she said, go ahead and we did it. 

I saw some things on your website that were so shattered that I couldn’t even figure out how you could envisage what it was even meant to be in the first place. They looked like … dust almost. How do you tackle this problem?

It’s a challenge but it’s also true that there’s almost always a context. You can research. One of the advantages of having been at this for so long, growing up in a family of collectors, is that I understand a fragment of porcelain about this size, and it’s blue and white, is brushed not screened, is white on the inside with flowing lines … it’s most likely Chinese not Japanese. These are little tricks. You also have a pretty good idea if it’s a closed vessel or an open vessel [because of the curve.]

An old bronze drum from Southeast Asia lies in pieces after someone mistook it for a stool during a party.
Detail of a massive late 19th c. French gilt wood frame, before treatment. The frame is 8 feet tall by 10 feet wide (for Jessica Rose at Judson Interiors).
Endless shelves of materials at the studio. Brush holders include a 17th c. Spanish maiolica vase.
Limited inpainting using Gamblin Conservation Colors.
It’s all about the brushes at Center Art. In the background, a 17th c. Neapolitan allegorical painting from the Studio collection.

And what about the stories of who broke the piece?

No one is confessing! Usually cats, grandchildren, the housekeeper … they get the blame.

With paintings, there is also the problem of over-restoration. How do you know when you’re veering towards that? What are the alarm signals?

Layers. And solubility. Briefly you have to understand the painting as something that is in three dimensions and complex. Everything we do, we test, even if we know that 99 times out of 100, the surface solvent will be effective and not damaging to an oil painting, one out of 100 odds are not good. We always proceed from the least strong interventions.

Francesco Zuccarelli (1702-1788), one of four pastoral scenes in the Studio collection, before treatment.
Another of the Zuccarellis, with three oil sketches by Orlando Rouland (also from the Studio collection).
Summertime in the Catskills by Orlando Rouland, a painting from the Robert and Betsey Schwengel Collection, showing the view from Rouland’s house while he stayed in the Onteora Club around 1920. Lansing and his wife Iliana have a home in Onteora and are active in the curation of Onteora’s art collection. The light strips are the first steps in the cleaning process.
This sculpture of a lady was abandoned at the studio thirty years ago. She has watched over the studio ever since. Anyone with a clue about her, please contact the studio!

But surely it’s your eye, ultimately, that is judging this process, right?

It is your eye. Take this painting [he shows us a small seascape] The top layer is a mixture of oil, nicotine, grease as well as all the effects of a smoky environment, and there is another layer below that, which is a natural varnish applied by the painter that has turned yellow over time. Then below that is oil paint. Now the top layer will dissolve in a simple detergent or soap with a little bit of solvent added. But the layers of varnish need a stronger solvent, one that does not affect the oil paint. You want to get down to the oil paint and the original level of varnish layer that has relevance to the piece.

How do you know that?

By looking really closely …

Lansing cleaning an old Peruvian painted alabaster figure of the Immaculate Conception. This figure is carved from Piedra Huamanga, a type of alabaster found in Peru and used for religious figures from the 17th century onward. The figure shown, Inmaculada Concepción, comes from Doyle Auctions and entered the Huber Collection with the assistance of Center Art Studio.
Removing old restorations from another 18th c. Peruvian alabaster figure. The details of the Virgin’s intricately carved hair were clogged with old fill and restorer’s paint. The robes have added luster from having been painted in translucent oil washes over gold leaf.
A 16th century German carved wood figure of Saint Sebastian mid-treatment, waiting to have his missing arrows replaced.
A 19th c. bronze sculpture that was exposed to soot in a fire, after surface cleaning. Lansing finished the object by warming it up using a hot air gun then applying clear wax and buffing by hand.
Egyptian sarcophagus lid (part), presiding over the wood room. This came to Lansing from Sam Green, who introduced the studio to John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the late 1970s. Lansing’s first housecall as an apprentice was to the Lennon’s apartment in the Dakota.
Sculptures awaiting treatment, including a beautiful painted alabaster Virgin from the collection of Richard and Roberta Huber (top). The studio has worked on objects and paintings from the Huber Collection since 2011, including many of the works in the recent exhibit Highest Heaven: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art from the Collection of Roberta and Richard Huber which opened at the San Antonio Museum of Art in 2016.
A Victorian plaster sculpture of a scene from Shakespeare, Is it so Nominated in the Bond? by John Rogers (1824-1904), from The Players. The studio works on sculpture in wood, stone, plaster and metal, as well as paintings.
A very good antique Chinese carved wood, lacquer and gold relief after cleaning.
This remarkable Spanish Colonial altar cabinet sat in an office in the Church of the Resurrection on East 74th Street for many years, until Father Barry Swain asked Lansing to take a look at it during a meeting on another matter. Although the cabinet and the suite of painted wood figures were dilapidated and very dirty, it was immediately clear that this was a rare and important object. With the support of the Church the altar and figures were transported to Center Art Studio for treatment that lasted about eight months. Each painted and gilt wood statue was cleaned, stabilized and inpainted where necessary. The joinery of the cabinet was tightened, missing parts were replicated and the finish was refreshed. Early restorations were removed, revealing the original gold and painted decoration. Finally, Center Art worked with fiberoptic lighting engineers Sandra Liotus and David Crampton-Barden to fabricate and install a low-intensity lighting system so the painted surfaces could be appreciated. The altar is now on view in the main area of the church at 119 East 74th Street, in the building designed by architect James Renwick and completed in 1869. It dates to the early 18th century and was made in the Altiplano. A parishioner brought it to New York and gave it to the church some time in the 1930s. Photo by Edward Addeo.

How about fixing mistakes?

We work with reversible materials. A mistake that would be very difficult to fix would be if we over-cleaned or put a hole in something. Thank God, that is a vanishingly rare experience.

How did you get your start in this?

I started as an apprentice in 1978, as a sophomore in college—I was at Brown. It was a very happy fluke, actually. When I was a kid the thing I most liked to do was paint and draw and play around with antiques. When we moved to New York, one of my father’s pieces, a Chinese bronze, was broken in the move. I was headed for a career in the corporate world and I worked for American Express in the summers. When this piece was broken and the gallery recommended that my father take it to a studio to be fixed, my dad saw that this was a place I’d be interested in. I went to see the place and I was charmed by it. My first house call was to John Lennon and Yoko Ono!

Booth as Cardinal Richelieu by John Collier, in progress.
Jefferson as Bob Acres by John White Alexander, in progress.
Annie Canning performing the first cleaning of the Alexander portrait of Jefferson. They clean these paintings first with a conservation soap to remove dirt and smoke residue, then with solvents to remove discolored varnish and previous restorations.
Lansing using Wolbers solvent gel to remove over a century’s accumulated residue from cigar smoke, coal fires and previous restoration.
Sara Barth Drew, Lansing Moore, Annie Canning, and Melissa Barton standing in front of the two monumental portraits of actors from The Players.

What did they want fixed?

The last thing I wanted to do was to show up as the nineteen-year-old kid who wanted John Lennon’s autograph. I had my little fishing box of stuff. The project was a painted cedar sarcophagus. They had a collection of Egyptian art in addition to the Japanese stuff. There were blisters on the surface. Sean [Lennon], who was a toddler then, was running around popping the blisters. It meant mixing rabbit skin glue and injecting it under the blisters and pressing it down while it dried. I went up to the Dakota, went into the ground floor office and they took me up to the residence. The sculpture was standing in the gallery that runs along Central Park West—they had two [apartments] It took me ten days, a couple of hours a day. John Lennon came by and we chatted for a bit and I managed to keep it about what I was doing. It was an ecstatic experience!

I love the term “house call” – like I say, you are a kind of doctor!

Well, you do have to do house calls. We also worked for Iman and David Bowie. I had a good conversation with Bowie and we were talking about Chinese joined furniture. There’s a guy, who first of all was the nicest person in the world, but was also so very curious and very specific about the way the wood grain goes, why they cut it this way and that way, nuts and bolts stuff.

The paintings corridor in the studio, a thirty-foot-long space with north facing windows, is an ideal spot for displaying and treating paintings. Hanging at the end is a portrait of a jester by William Merritt Chase, after Velázquez’ Portrait of Pablo de Valladolid in the Prado. Chase donated the painting to The Players while he was a member. The group of actors’ portraits by John Neagle hangs on the wall to the left.
Another view of the Neagle portraits in the paintings corridor. This group of sixteen paintings by Neagle is the largest group of paintings by the artist in a single collection. All were done in Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th century. It is very rare to find so many images of theatrical subjects from this period.
Another view of the Chase portrait, with WALL-E, the studio’s fume extractor, in the foreground.
The first cleaning reveals the yellow-orange residue characteristic of nicotine (detail of Portrait of a
Jester after Velazquez by William Merritt Chase, from the collection of The Players).
The first test cleaning is so satisfying. The small bright patch above the eye shows how very dirty this portrait is. Over 150 years of soot and cigar smoke, and a varnish that has turned yellow, hide the original paint surface.
Old canvasses can become quite brittle. This painting has a crack through the canvas at the nostril, which Lansing will reinforce from behind, then fill in and paint.

Yes, I got the impression he would have been someone who likes people who know things.

That’s the ultimate credential. Everybody loves money—and I’m part of that too. But what’s really essential is space and ability.

I have been looking around the pieces in here and I have been thinking, I will admit, that I rather like the dirt on some of them. I like the yellowed, shadowy feel to them

Me too. Too many bad plastic surgery jobs can really ruin the thing. My view is that the conservation process allows you to see it. A painting should not look stark, staring clean.

The home of The Players, at 16 Gramercy Park South. The noted actor Edwin Booth bought the building in 1888 and transformed it into a private club for actors and those with a strong connection to the theatrical world. Booth hired architect Stanford White to make the transformation. Recently the club renovated the facade, for which they received the prestigious Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
The group of actor’s portraits by Neagle, after treatment and reinstallation in the library at The Players.
William Francis as Sir George Thunder in Wild Oats.
William B. Wood as King John.
William Charles Macready as Macbeth.
Thomas H. Hilson as Tyke in The School for Reform.
Mrs. Darley as Juliet.
Mrs. William Francis as Miss Harlow in The Old Maid.
John Duff as Marmion.
Mary Duff as Mary in Superstition.
John Foote as Dr. Cantwell.
John Barnes as Billy Lackaday in Sweethearts and Wives.
Joe Cowell as Crack in The Turnpike Gate by John Neagle.
James Roberts as Bob Logic in Tom and Jerry by John Neagle
Edmund Kean as King Lear.
Edmund Kane by John Neagle.
Edmund Kane as Richard III.
Charlotte Barnes, Mrs. Edmond S. Connor, as Isabella.

But also our tastes have changed. Like the hideous way Roman sculpture was painted in its own era—all garish colors. We like the white marble and think it classical. You would never go back and “restore” those to their bright colors, right?

That’s the classic test case. No, I would never go back and do that. The whole psychology of seeing is very complicated.

Recent Posts