Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Restoring Duane Hanson’s Beloved “Janitor”

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996), Janitor, 1973. Polyester, fiberglass, and mixed media; 65 1/2 x 28 x 22 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Friends of Art M1973.91. Photo credit John Nienhuis. © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Duane Hanson’s lifelike Janitor (1973) is one of the Museum’s most beloved works of art. It generates curiosity on many levels: How did the artist make the sculpture so realistic? What does this photo-realistic artwork mean? What does he wear under his uniform? How does the Museum take care of this unusual work of art?

To that final question, “carefully and creatively” is the answer that the Museum’s Docents recently learned from senior conservator Jim DeYoung. The Milwaukee Art Museum agreed to loan Janitor to the Walker Art Center for the Lifelike exhibition, Feb 25 – May 27, 2012. In preparation for the artwork’s exhibition in Minneapolis, Jim’s conservation team turned their restoration attention and considerable skills to making Janitor appear in pristine condition and ready for travel.

The details of this restoration are fascinating.

Curious about how a conservator cleans 40-year-old human hair affixed to plastic? Hint: They don’t use Head and Shoulders shampoo. Read on to find out more!