When an art enthusiast purchases a piece for their home, they envision the joy it will bring them every day and the conversations it will inspire among friends and family. However, the owner of this painting could not foresee just how interesting those conversations would become. One night our customer returned home to discover his house had been broken into, and this beloved painting had been torn to shreds. His pet theory was that they tried to take it off the stretchers, and failing to do so resulted in taking their frustrations out on the painting. No amount of homeowners insurance could replace the quirky image that had brightened up their home. He walked up to my counter and rang the bell, fully expecting I would send him away as many shops had already done. He held the canvas vertically on the floor, on the other side of the design table so I couldn't see the full extent of the damage. At the climax of his woeful tale he lifted the painting, and I can not be held responsible for how loud and vulgar my reaction was. Holy #%&! He begged, he pleaded, he made puppy dog eyes, but honestly I felt such a tug of attraction to the prospect of trying to frankenstein this painting back together, he had me at “shredded painting”. I explained some of the methods I would attempt in order to work this miracle, and he giddily gave me free reign of the project.
There is an adhesive commonly used to attach canvas extensions to the edges of paintings which, for various reasons, have too little expendable side canvas to properly re-stretch around new stretcher bars. We did not have this glue. This was prior to my days as the manager of the shop, so I had yet to bring in all the tools and materials I had become accustomed to using elsewhere. So I made due with some acid free white glue and linen tape. I strategically removed the canvas from the stretchers where necessary, bearing in mind that the usual amount of stress caused by a normal canvas stretch would be too much for the glued areas, even after dry.
I painstakingly lined up all details separated by tears, and temporarily taped them in place in preparation for the linen tape. Gummed linen tape already has a starch paste applied to one side, so my hope was that the moisture from the glue would activate that paste in order to reach through to the linen fibers for a firm grip. I applied the glue-covered linen in segments along each tear, trying to keep the fibers of the canvas in alignment wherever possible. I made sure to rub the tape vigorously in order to make sure that the paste was activated and the glue had enough grip within the back fibers of the canvas. Too much moisture applied to the canvas might have caused puckering around the glued areas, or perhaps even disturbed the grip of the paint on the other side, so a moisture/pressure balance had to be struck.
The canvas 'band-aids' worked pretty well, but there were still visible gaps along certain tears. I bridged each of these gaps with acrylic paint mixed to closely match the original colors of each region for a seamless transition. If examined up close the gaps were still visible as a texture, but standing from a normal distance the seams disappeared into the painting. Thankfully the chaotic abstract nature of the piece worked in it's favor.
The final rehabilitation stage was reattaching the top edge of the canvas to the stretcher bar. It had been torn into a jagged tooth formation, making stapling difficult. Because the painting was originally free floating without a frame, the staples were done on the back of the stretchers to avoid being visible on the sides. The damage was significant enough that I had no choice but to staple on the sides at various places along the entire perimeter, and entirely along each jagged tooth of the top edge. I concealed all of these staples with white paint. Even though the top isn't visible once it's up on the wall, I took the precaution of applying the paint to that area as well.
The customer was relieved to have his sentimentally prized painting back in his possession, nearly good as new and ready to stir up many intriguing conversations for years to come.