Art Conservation And Restoration ...

Lisa Capano works on a damaged painting. Capano recently moved to Imperial Beach where she continues her work in conservation and restoration.

Lisa Capano has painstakingly cleaned and restored art for many decades now, since she discovered how much she enjoyed the work. An artist herself, Capano loves preserving what other artists have created that has been damaged by the years gone by. She has worked in both Italy and the U.S. and her extensive experience and knowledge in both modern and antique restoration techniques is invaluable.

Capano, who originally comes from San José, grew up painting, drawing and playing with clay. When it was time to choose a major in college she wanted to study art, but her father was worried about her future and asked her, “What are you going to do as an artist?” That question led Capano to first pursue a graphic design degree but when she didn’t enjoy it, she switched to Fine Arts. After graduating from San José State University, she wanted to study art in Italy. Although only speaking a little Italian she moved to Florence and enrolled in a Master’s Program where she studied art restoration and conservation.

Capano recalls going to the Italian Consulate in San José to get help and when she found the art program, she was pleased and knew it would work for her. “I like the idea, my father would like the idea,” she remembers saying to herself.

In Florence, Capano attended art classes during the day and then studied Italian in the afternoon. She worked hard and had to learn new techniques. “Drawing, painting was no problem. I had to learn the science of color, mixing colors, gesso, stucco. If you have to make it, you have to know how to do everything in restoration and be able to preserve [the piece],” she said.

Capano explained that in restoration everything you do must be reversible - that’s why it’s so important to use the correct colors, adhesives and patches. After finishing her degree, she moved to San Francisco for a one year internship with a private studio, where her work focused on restoration of more modern art.

When the year was up she went back to Italy, married an Italian man and opened her conservation and restoration business in Milan. There she worked on a variety of art pieces that belonged to private collectors, churches and museums. Her portfolios are full of before and after photos of beautifully restored art.

After a decade or so, Capano moved back to the U.S. and lived in Colorado near her parents where she also met her new husband Bill. Now that her parents live in Coronado she and her husband have made their new home in Imperial Beach.

Capano has moved her restoration and conservation business with her. Her new location is not a problem since Capano’s customers ship paintings to her from all over the U.S. When the job is too big, as in the cases of murals, she travels to the job site. After clients receive an estimate from Capano and decide to restore their artwork, it takes her usually 3 to 5 weeks to finish, but can take longer depending on the damage. Capano doesn’t just work on paintings and murals but also sculptures and even furniture, if it has artwork.

The very energetic Capano showed one of the paintings she is currently restoring. It’s an oil on canvas depicting a woman. The painting had a big tear and Capano has started the restoration process by first patching the back of the canvas, then filling the painting with gesso in the front to join the canvas together. Next she will match the colors to the original, a technique called “inpainting.”

Her impressive portfolio shows artwork she restored in Italy of a Madonna and child painted on copper from the 1500s. But that’s not the oldest painting she restored. The oldest dated back to the 1300s. Of course it is hard to find pieces of art that are comparatively old in the U.S., except for private collections or museums.

Capano has a home studio in Imperial Beach where she works from. The room was specifically chosen because it has the right light coming in and storage for all the equipment needed. Depending on the work she is doing, Capano has to wear a respirator, uses magnifying glasses for detailed work and works with solvents.

Other paintings she is currently working on are very diverse in style and type of work needed. One is of a street scene in France, another of a sailboat dating back to the 1800s. She showed how the sailboat painting can come back to life with just a cleaning. Using cotton dipped in solvent she cleaned a small piece of the sky revealing the color the artist had originally used.

Each painting she restores is a new challenge. “Every painting is different, there are different problems,” she said.

Over the many years working in restoration and conservation, Capano has given talks to schools to encourage young people to join the profession. She has also done presentations at clubs and other venues to let others know how art can be restored.

For Capano her work is not just a job but a true passion. “I love what I do,” she said “This is not a job, it’s creation, giving another life to a painting.”

Capano showed another painting she is restoring. It depicts a man playing the guitar. The painting was done on masonite. It was painted by a woman who escaped the Nazi occupation and moved to the U.S. in the 1940s. Capano explained and showed the damage that had occurred to the painting over the years. Capano surmised that the painting had been stored in a wet place, like a basement. Water had seeped in and the color had literally popped off in small pieces in some areas.

“The pieces came in a baggy,” she recalled. “I can fix this. I can fix almost anything,” she explained.

Her work can be like working on a puzzle sometimes, as in this case, where she has to match the bits of paint that popped off and put them back in place. Capano uses products that come from Italy and specific restoration paint that can be reversed if necessary. “All conservators use thin paint like glazes,” she said.

Capano explained that some paintings she works on are valuable while others have more of a sentimental value to a family that inherited it. As in the case of the painting that belonged to the woman who escaped Europe. “It has a meaning. She escaped from persecution and brought it to America. It is worth something,” she said. “Art is personal and different. Somebody loves it and needs me to make it ok.”

Sometimes Capano keeps paintings that are beyond restoring as a teaching tool. One of them is of a street scene. The painting survived a fire but was heavily damaged and could not be restored; the heat had caused the paint to bubble.

Capano showed a painting of two women who looked perfectly restored but she showed that in a certain light you can see what she calls “scar tissue.” The painting had a big tear in the middle and Capano restored it so well, it can be enjoyed and hung on a wall. Capano says through her work she can make paintings 90 percent better. Through her restoration, artwork can be enjoyed for many years to come and for future generations.

“I love my job for many reasons. Every painting is is different, every client is different. it’s exciting to give life back to a painting,” she said.

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