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James Stuart Painting Restoration

“Sunset and Moonrise on the Great Chief” or “the Ruling Spirit of the Columbia”

Artist: James Everett Stuart (1852-1941)
Date of painting: 1894 (Oil on canvas 8’ x 5’)

Be a part of this historic art preservation project, for our community and generations to come, by helping us complete this restoration work!


Restoration Update

At the end of November 2019, the painting was removed from the walls of the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center and shipped to Redmond, WA for restoration. The Museum is contracting with conservator Bruce F. Miller to restore the painting, and atelier Richard Boerth, to restore the antique, gilded frame.

Painting Update

The updates from the conservator are exciting. First, he used a cotton swab to make a small cleaning test. The virtually black swab indicates how discolored the varnish was. Interestingly, caster oil was used in the original varnish formulation, which likely contributed to the unusual discoloration of the varnish. Removing the discolored varnish will dramatically improve the color of the painting. Below are cleaning images of the bottom of the painting.
painting update 1

Painting update 2

Frame Update

The frame restoration is also in progress. The conservator began by adding a buildup to the back of the frame. This buildup work got the overall depth needed on all sides to allow for a secure hanging to the wall with clearance. Once those were complete, the frame was placed face up for the major part of the work. The conservator cleaned off the gold paint on the burnished areas, consolidated loose gesso, and prepared the frame to fill damaged areas. The conservator intends to honor the original gilding of the frame, particularly on the surfaces that were originally water gilded and burnished, which will result in more lively appearance and be appropriate to the intent of the original frame makers.
Frame Update 1

New Details

This landscape painting, painted by James Edward Stuart in 1894, is of a large rock formation overlooking the Columbia River. It was previously thought to be located at the Maryhill Ferry, near Goldendale, however, upon removal from the Museum wall the back of the canvas revealed in Stuart’s own handwriting that it is “Situated on the upper end of the Island that forms Hell Gate, and about 130 miles above Portland, Oregon.” This would put the location east of Maryhill, WA, closer to Arlington, OR. Also uncovered was the record of restoration work done on the painting in San Francisco in 1945.

Project Goal

Fundraising for the restoration project was launched in 2017, and is nearing the full $18,210 goal required to fully complete the project. Thanks to your generosity, we have raised $16,750 to fund this historic art preservation project for our community and for generations to come. We still have the potential to complete our fundraising goal before the restoration work is complete.

About the Painting 

This majestic and unique piece of art is part of the collections at WVMCC. Painted by the well-known and prolific western landscape painter, James Stuart, this piece was originally displayed in the Washington State building at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo in San Francisco and later in the WA State Historical Society in Tacoma until 1954. After Frank A. Dupar, Sr. purchased the painting, it hung in the lobby of the Cascadian Hotel until 1968 when it was gifted to Wenatchee Valley College. It was then donated to the museum in 1985 where it now hangs in our museum annex building.

It depicts a rock formation that appears to be the profile of a Native Chief in full regalia (look at the shadowed section of rock to the left of the sunset-lit arch – can you see a profile of a face?!)

This beautiful treasure has a special history in our community as well as Washington State. It celebrates the mystery and beauty of the unique geological formations all along our great Columbia River. The preservation of this painting will allow us to display it proudly once again showcasing the invaluable link to history held here within our walls.

Join this community project!

As part of our mission, the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center makes efforts to conserve the thousands of items in our collection for generations to come. The painting “Sunset and Moonrise of the Great Chief, of the Ruling Spirit of the Columbia” is one item in our collection that is especially exciting due to its unique history and it is in need of conservation. Over the past 125 years of its life, the painting has darkened and is in need of conservation to bring it back to its former vibrant glory.

Restoration includes the original gilt frame that Stuart chose for his painting. Melanie Wachholder, Curator of Collections, said, “It is important to display a historic piece of art in its original frame, if at all possible. The frame itself is a historic piece, much like the many other pieces from this era in our collections. It represents the era, the design and the grandeur the painter intended for his piece of art. Although restoring this frame is also quite costly, together the frame and art make a complete collection piece.”

In addition to the restoration of the painting and frame, the piece must be transported professionally with the utmost care to ensure no damage occurs in the handling process. We are contracting with one of the best museum art moving companies around, and trust that they will be able to deliver back to us our spectacular collections piece and help us hang it for all to see.

By being a donor to this community project, you will get exclusive communications about the process. All donors will be recognized on an Honor Wall during this project campaign, and those who contribute $500 or more will be honored in perpetuity at the unveiling of the restored painting with their name on a permanent plaque which will be hung at its side.

Click here to contribute with a credit card online, send your donation to Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center, 127 S Mission, Wenatchee, WA 98801, or call us for more information at 509-888-6240. Your contribution to this project is greatly appreciated.

Please join us in thanking our generous donors for their support for this historic project!

Stuart Painting Restoration Donors