June 04, 2022

In Remembrance: Barry Bauman’69, noted art conservator

Barry Bauman’69, a noted art conservator who founded the Chicago-based Midwest Conservation Center and dedicated thousands of pro-bono hours to restoring art for nonprofits and small museums, died at home on Feb. 5, in Riverside, Ill.
  • Barry R. Bauman in the studio at his home where he does pro bono restorations for non-profits and museums Thursday, December 19, 2013.
    Peter Wynn Thompson

In 1983, he founded and built what became The Conservation Center, the largest private art conservation facility of its kind. After selling it to one of his employees in 2003, he established Barry Bauman Conservation, the first national lab dedicated to offering free conservation services to museums and nonprofits. Among the paintings he restored are eight pieces in the Wright Museum of Art’s collection, including a fine oil painting by Dutch Master Jan Gabrielsz Sonje.

His obituary in the New York Times reported that “over roughly 15 years, he provided an estimated $6 million worth of work to more than 300 museums, organizations, and historic homes.”

After graduating from Beloit, Bauman earned a master’s degree in art history from the University of Chicago, then negotiated a 10-year apprenticeship at the esteemed Art Institute of Chicago where he became an associate conservator of paintings.

In a 2014 Beloit College Magazine story, Bauman said that the role of an art conservator was to remain invisible while making a painting look its best. “The goal is to have the artist look as good as he or she can, and to participate in that goal has always been my reward,” he said.

Over his career, however, Bauman did attract attention, especially in 2011 when he discovered that a painting, owned by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and purported to be of Mary Todd Lincoln, was a fake. After peeling back the layers, Bauman uncovered an added date and flourishes intended to make the anonymous subject look like Todd Lincoln. The story of his detective work into the painting’s provenance made international headlines.

Bauman said that the Beloit Plan and intercollegiate basketball drew him to the college, and he took his first art history course mainly because it worked with his basketball schedule. Taught by Beloit’s Professor of Art Lew Williams, the class was so good it inspired him to pursue what became his lifelong passion. “My job has never been work,” he told Beloit College Magazine.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Bourke Bauman, and two sons.


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