When Beloit College alumnus Rick Dexter’70 retired from the Wisconsin Historical Society, he returned to his alma mater. Since then, Dexter has been actively helping various departments by researching and organizing their archival records. The Wright Museum is a beneficiary of Rick’s generosity. On any Tuesday Rick can be found in the Wright’s registration room poring over accession files and piecing together lost histories about the Wright’s collections. More recently Rick has extended his generosity from restoring the paper records to restoring the objects themselves. Having spent more than five years volunteering at the Wright Museum, Rick had become intimately familiar with the Wright’s collection, and wanted to help restore some of the paintings so they could return to the walls of the gallery. Working together with the Wright Museum staff, Rick helped identify works that he would fund for conservation. To date Rick has helped the Wright restore eight paintings from the collection, including a 20th century portrait by Wisconsin’s own Theodore Robinson and a pair of 17th century Dutch Golden Age landscapes.
"Portrait of Peter's Father" by Goodwin, 1846 (before the restoration).
Conservation is an ongoing need in all museums. The Wright Museum’s collection is more than 120 years old. In 1892, Helen Brace Emerson donated her personal collection of art to Beloit College and created its first program in art appreciation. Since this initial offering the Wright Museum has been accumulating artwork through donations and purchases, amassing a formidable and diverse collection. Not all donated objects arrive in pristine condition, and paintings, like any material object, suffer through the slow decay of time. A landscape painting hung over a fireplace accumulates enough dust and ash to brown the top layer of varnish, canvas stretchers warp and sag with fluctuations in humidity, and the slow drying of oils creates craquelure on the paint surface. The Wright Museum makes a great effort to prevent the further decay of its objects through proper handling and storage, but many of the paintings in the collection require conservation in order to be in exhibit condition. In the past year, thanks to Rick’s generosity, the Wright Museum has been able to conserve eight paintings, with two returning from the conservator and alumnus Barry Bauman’69 early in the new year.
"Portrait of Peter's Father" by Goodwin, 1846 (following the restoration).
The immediate impact of this generosity can be registered as a visitor strolls through the Wright Museum’s Hollensteiner Gallery and reads the credit line on any of these remarkably restored paintings. The whole impact, however, may not be fully appreciated for years or decades to come—as the name Rick Dexter is cited in many a future Beloiter’s research paper, special project, or archival work.