What is this? You may want to sit down because this will take awhile.
It's a sort of long, wonderful story, with a sorta kinda happy ending. Months ago, at the Pasadena flea, I stepped in to help a vendor who was trying to spread out a HUGE canvas sign for a customer.
It was very cool but too expensive for me. He showed me a bunch of other big signs (also too expensive). His grandfather was a preacher in the 30's and held a summer "chautauqua" in the mountains above L.A.. These kinds of gatherings were very popular then and he certainly attracted quite a crowd. The signs were used in his preaching and as advertising.
He inherited the painted canvas signs from his great aunt, who had kept them stored all these years in her garage. Alas, some of them were so fused together from heat and humidity that they could not be opened. This roll is about 6 feet long.
He also had some cool old books, which lead to a conversation about bookbinding and collage and art. He thought I might know how to salvage these compressed rolls and offered them to me for free.
And so the journey began (are you still with me?).
I reached out to the bookbinding/book restoration community and received some suggestions, but not much encouragement. Some of them knew a lot about the paint used at that time and thought it would be impossible to separate the canvas layers. Helpfully, they also disabused me of some of my less brilliant ideas. Soak them in water? Use a spray on oil? Not.
The really cool thing is that the guy had a photo of his grandfather and his students standing in front of a gigantic sign. He thought one of the rolls might contain that sign. Would I try to save it? What a treasure he would have, with the photo and the sign in the photo! If it didn't work, he said I could just keep the rolls and use them for whatever art project I wanted.
In fact, I had no luck at all.
I tried to peel off some of the canvas but it was totally crumbly. It seemed hopeless. My husband stepped in with his miter saw and sliced up one of the rolls. I thought I might do an assemblage with the slices.
But low and behold - some of the inner layers weren't stuck together after all! In my haste and frustration, I ruined who knows what wonders. Rats. So now, I have a box of these....
I wasn't going to make that mistake with the second roll. I laboriously sliced through 2 or three layers at a time until I came to a section that was not fused. Even so, I was able to pull apart some of the fused sections, in pieces. I could tell they included bible quotes and references. Collage fodder.
But, I was also able to salvage some actual words. I thought it was interesting what words showed up. 'Course, I guess you find what you are looking for, yes?
So now, we come to the end of the journey. This is where the "sorta kinda" happy ending comes in. There were 5 complete canvas banners, intact.
Wonderful that the colors stayed so intense all this time.
There were a few more of similar ilk. I'm actually quite happy and have stopped kicking myself for ruining the first one. Who knows if I could have saved it.
Now, if I could just find the guy's email again so I can get them back to him! History. Family stories. I love it.