The Careful Conservationist
John Hartmann ’79 returned to Lewisburg last spring and enjoyed a full-circle moment. The art-deco murals on the walls and ceiling of the Campus Theatre that fascinated him as a student now have new life thanks to Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services.
“It was really rewarding for me. I think most of the people weren’t particularly prepared for the changes this would bring. Just the color changes alone are a ‘wow factor,’” says Hartmann. He and a team from his Carlisle-based business were able to remove years of dirt, varnish and water damage and identify the original paint colors to bring the murals back to their halcyon days.
Hartmann graduated from Bucknell with a dual major in chemistry and studio art. While a peculiar combination of majors to some, to the analytical son of artists it seemed natural. Hartmann went on to earn his master’s in art conservation from the State University of New York at Cooperstown. There his organic chemistry background and artistic talents complemented each other perfectly.
As an art conservator, Hartmann says, “You have to know about the historic materials you’re dealing with and the new materials you’re going to use. You have to know how they’re going to react with the original artwork.” You also need some hands-on artistic skill when it comes to reconstruction and in-painting.
Hartmann spent 20 years as the chief of conservation for Pennsylvania, working on projects for the state’s 60 historic sites. When budget cuts scrapped the program six years ago, Hartmann struck out on his own, creating Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services. He hasn’t looked back. Since then, memorable projects have included conservation work on the ceiling murals of the U.S. vice president’s office and reconstructing a painting that arrived in 40 pieces.
While working in Lewisburg, Hartmann made time to visit campus and present lectures on art conservation as a career.
For Hartmann, it was good to be back. “It’s a great town and it’s changed in a positive way. The theatre is a thriving part of their lives in Lewisburg,” he says. “It’s great that Bucknell stepped in to help facilitate this project. The community has a gem here, and they should be really proud of it.” — Julie Dreese
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