RIHS Hybrid Restoration

In 2020 we were contacted by the Rhode Island Historical Society. They have in their possession the oldest theatre background in the country. It was painted around 1817, was 25 feet long and 15 feet high. It depicted Providence, Rhode Island. As you can see in the photograph below, the background is in pretty bad shape.  We were called to see if we could digitally restore the background. In other words, they wanted us to photograph the background and then digitally restore the digital image we took. 

This seemed like a reasonable request, even though this would be the largest work of art I had ever photographed and restored. 

The first thing I needed to do was to see if I could successfully photograph this and make an enormous file for retouching. So I traveled to Providence, set up my lights and camera and photographed it, in sections, like I do for all large works of art. In this case, I took a total of 78 individual images with a long lens, starting from the upper left and moving across the image in a S pattern a total of 6 times, taking overlapping images as I went. These were combined on site and they assembled perfectly. I then did some initial retouching and realized quickly that this was going to be an enormous project, and many places on the images would require more than digital work.

At this point, I contacted a painter client of mine named Matt Andrade. Matt's specializes in very large paintings of architecturally accurate cathedrals in very odd locations (in deserts, in a canyon, etc). He also was a theater background painter at Northeastern. 

I asked Matt if he would be interested in collaborating with me on a Hybrid restoration of the background. My daughter Lydia would handle the digital restoration. She would  break the large file into sections and digitally retouch each section as much as possible. I would then make prints, and Matt would repair with paint and a brush, anything that couldn't be retouched digitally. He would paint directly on the prints. Then when everything was done, I'd photograph the prints and combine the images of each to make the final master image. Matt agreed. So I submitted a proposal, and that was accepted by the Society.

Once we got going the project took 6 months to complete. It started with a reshoot of the original painting that took all day, and then Lydia and Matt went to work after that. The results can be seen below.

 Original unretouched photograph of John Worral's theatre backdrop in Providence, RI.

 Fully restored image of John Worral's theatre backdrop created with a mix of traditional and digital techniques. 
 

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