In his workshop beneath The Picture Mart, Andy Magee leans over a portrait of a woman and a young girl. Concentrating on the task at hand, he picks up a Q-Tip, applies paint to its cotton tip and fills in a small area of the canvas. Andy is not the portrait's painter. Instead, he's more like its doctor.
The 250-year-old painting in front of him fell off of a customer's mantelpiece and was brought to him for repair and restoration. For the past three months, Andy has worked to repair bare spots, fix holes in the painting and correct the mistakes of past repairs. When he is done repairing this piece, the owner will be able to see what the painting looked like when it was new.
Magee Fine Art Restoration began four years ago as an off-shoot of The Picture Mart, a Kirkwood store that specializes in framing artwork. There, Magee worked as a picture framer.
"The store had always received requests for small scale restorations," says Magee, "so I decided to take on restorations as an entirely separate entity."
Magee holds a Bachelor's of Fine Arts (focusing on sculpture) and is currently pursuing a Master's of Fine Arts at Webster University. He opened his workshop in the store's basement and was able to utilize supplies that the store already had in stock. The business is still growing, Magee still works for The Picture Mart as his day job, but his sideline has been steady. Andy currently has 10 more paintings waiting for his attention.
When asked if his artistic training helps with what he does, he smiles and replies, "Oddly enough, painting isn't my strong point." Andy points out that his sculpting knowledge is what really comes in handy, especially when he has to restore an antique frame for a painting that's been brought to him. He shows me a silicone mold he uses to cast pieces to fill in the gaps in a frame on his work table. Andy will use simple plaster, wood putty and paint to erase any signs of damage from the frame.
"My tools are very low-tech," he says as he shows me around his work shop. Q-Tips, cotton swabs, beeswax and pieces of cloth are in abundance. He also has a more conventional supply of brushes, paints and varnishes. "These are probably the most expensive supplies," he says, referring to the paints. Andy uses high-quality paint to match the look and texture of the original painting.
According to Andy, one of hardest parts of restoration is repairing large tears. In order to perfectly hide the tear, the area around must be cut out. Then the entire canvas is taken off of its frame and stuck on top of a new sheet of canvas, using beeswax as a sealer. The canvas is straightened using a hot iron and finally attached to a new frame. Andy then works to fill in the hole to match the surrounding painting. The entire process must be done just right for the repair to appear seamless.
"It's really important to disassociate yourself from the work," says Andy. In order for him to do what is necessary to repair a painting, he must not be too intimidated by a piece to cut into it, paint over it or any number of actions he may have to take. It's important to realize that if he makes any mistakes during a restoration, he can quickly undo them.
"People ask me if I'm afraid I'll mess up a painting while I'm trying to restore it," he says. "I compare it to taking your car to the mechanic for a repair. If the mechanic drops a hammer on the hood of your car, odds are you'll never know, because he turns around and fixes the dent before you get the car back."
Andy recalls one of his first customers who brought in a painting for a simple cleaning. He had performed the cleaning and the customer had come to pick it up. Andy was showing her samples of molding to frame the picture in, when he accidentally dropped a piece of the molding through the center of the picture.
"That gave me a crash course in art restoration," says Andy as he describes how he successfully repaired the damage.
Today, most of his business comes via word of mouth and recommendations. While he doesn't anticipate the Saint Louis Art Museum calling him for an emergency repair to a Van Gogh, he has received a few referrals from them. This type of publicity has let him grow at a comfortable pace, without letting the work become overwhelming.
"I'm busy now, but the work is still fun," he says, with palate in hand.
You can reach Andy Magee at Magee Fine Art Restoration, 314-369-5218.
Chris Cyr can write you a story, do your taxes, and protect your family during a zombie apocalypse. Check out his blog at zombiekiller.blogspot.com.