Another Kuno H. Struck painting has surfaced. Or rather, has been recognized.
We've written about Davenport businessman Struck several times over the past year, first about the manor-like home he and his wife built during 1910-11 on what became the campus of the former Marycrest College, and second about the oil paintings he created as a hobby that have found their way into Quad-City area homes.
The latest discovery is by Scott Saveraid, affilitated with Ruhl & Ruhl Insurance, who said the painting of a street scape had been hanging in the Ruhl office in the Putnam Building since at least the 1980s and he "walked past it every day."
But it wasn't until the office began packing up for its move in 2016 to the former Parker Building — part of the City Square project by Restoration St. Louis along 2nd Street between Brady and Main — that he examined the painting and spotted the artist's name. With a little internet searching, he realized its local significance and that it is "a great piece of Davenport history."
Saveraid took the painting to Audrey Brown, Rock Island, who does oil painting restoration work for a living, along with creating her own art work.
"It really looks nice now," Saveraid said. "Her end result is spectacular."
The rainy streetscape is framed on either side by rows of buildings with street lights, cars and people carrying umbrellas. Luminous reflections appear in the wet street, and pops of red show up in scattered spots — a woman's dress, the signage on storefronts and car tailights.
On the back of the painting is the title "Second Street in the Rain" and there is the date 1924. Both are puzzling to Saveraid, as the street doesn't resemble Second Street in Davenport and both the cars and clothing look later than the mid-'20s. So is the picture of an actual place and, if so, where? And when?
Saveraid also has "zero idea" how it came to be in the Putnam Building, who bought it or when.
Struck's 1945 obituary noted that he painted "several hundred landscape studies." The Figge Art Museum, Davenport, has two of them. Others must still be out there.
But Saveraid did some online digging and the only picture he came up with was sold several years ago. So if they're out there, their owners aren't selling.
WHO DOES RESTORATION?: And now the second part of this story.
I recognized the name Audrey Brown from four years ago when I wrote a story about her home and her receipt of a historic preservation award from the Rock Island Preservation Society.
She told me then she is an artist and a restorer, and I always meant to double back. The Struck painting gave me that opportunity.
Brown said she receives two to five restorations per month, depending on their size and complexity. Some of the work is for institutions, such as area libraries or colleges, and some is for regular people who have dingy family heirlooms or antique finds they'd like spruced up.
Most are of high sentimental value, not necessarily monetary worth.
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An exception was a painting brought to her by an elderly couple that Brown recognized as the work of Edourard Cortés (1882-1969), a post-impressionist artist from Paris, whose paintings have become valuable. The couple had begun collecting his pictures before he became famous because they liked them, and they had 12 works in their home, uninsured.
"They did not know what they had," Brown said.
Restoration work is "very tedious, but I'm very patient," Brown said. "I just get wrapped up in it, and it's kind of fun."
HOW DOES RESTORATION WORK?: Working with cotton swabs or a small, soft bristle brush, and wearing magnifying glasses and gloves, Brown uses a solvent she mixes up specifically for the project at hand.
She works on one tiny portion of the piece at a time, letting the solvent sit a bit to dissolve the dirt or varnish (I did not know that paintings typically are varnished) but not so long as to pull up the paint.
She then removes the solvent and moves on to another spot. When an entire piece is done, she sprays it with a museum-quality varnish (NOT the polyurethane one might put on a floor). This varnish protects the paint, brings out the color and leaves a wet appearance, like new paint.
Even paintings that have been torn or that have tiny rips can be restored. To do that, Brown takes the paintings out of their frames and stretchers and puts them face-down on a table covered with paper. She then affixes a pre-stretched piece of Belgian linen to the back with an adhesive in between. When the painting is bonded to the new linen, she mounts it on an easel and works on it as though it had no rips. In addition to cleaning, damaged paintings may also need fresh, touch-up paint.
Brown learned the art of restoration from the late James Konrad, a former professor at Augustana College, Rock Island. "This is something you can do to make a living," he told her. "But know your limits." If a piece is beyond your scope, he told her, "send it to Chicago."
Brown works exclusively on oil paintings, as other mediums would require other skill sets and materials. She also sticks to older works because she knows what type of paint the artists were using.
"With modern paintings, those conservators have a lot more to deal with," she said. "Those painters were using house paint and everything."
Brown has been in the business for 15 years and says "it's a really happy kind of job."
"I take something that is falling apart and I fix it."
It's also one that is constantly evolving, as new formulas are developed.
If you'd like to learn more about the Audrey Brown Art Studio, go to www.audreybrownartstudio.com