I learned more about art conservation and repairing paintings from Gustav Berger than from anyone else. He was a wonderful and great teacher and taught me how to think about damaged paintings and how to go about solving the problems encountered in trying to repair and preserve them. I met him when I was a young, beginning conservator in a family business in upstate NY and he couldn’t have been more helpful.
He and Mira became friends and we visited when in New York City. I could call Gustav and ask about particular problems anytime and often (always) the answer or the right direction to go in was right there. Once I had a Raphael Soyer that I had applied a thin Beva to on a Friday afternoon. When I came in on Monday morning the paint was curling up like mountain ranges through the areas I tried to consolidate. He had the answer immediately when I called.
The New York School Artists in the 30’s and 40’s went through a time when they were experimenting with plastic additives to the oil paints, and new formulations for oil paints – all from one art supply store in New York and xylene or toluene will make them go crazy.
I’m just one of many people he helped and taught. He was a real gift to our profession.
Gustav Berger 1920-2006
IIC Studies in Conservation: In Memorium to Gustav Berger 1920-2006 by Joyce Hill Stoner
From the above article by Joyce Hill Stoner:
“Gustav Berger, a paintings conservator known for his innovative approaches to the profession, died on 5 March 2006 at the age of 85. He was born in Vienna on 28 July 1920. He painted when young, and had an exhibition of his paintings in Vienna when he was only 18 years old. He studied civil engineering at the Haifa Technical Institute, and served with the British army from 1940 to 1946 and with the Israeli defense forces from 1947 to 1948.”
“He had grown up with art; his father and grandfather were presidents of the Art Dealers Association in Austria, and his father had sent him to look at the treatments being carried out by his restorers. His brother, Dr George Berger, became the president of the Art Critics Association in Australia and taught art at the University of Sydney.”
“Gustav Berger married Mira Kanishtshiker in Naples in 1946; they had met a year earlier at the Palazzo Pitti. Gustav and Mira moved to New York in 1954 and Gustav worked with Julius Lowy for two years, Kress conservator Mario Modestini for eight years (1956–1964), and then assisted Frick conservator William Suhr (1964–1967). He also spent six weeks helping with the Florence flood rescue activities.
“Berger built one of the first hot tables in the USA for Modestini in 1961 and credited Suhr with suggesting that he invent a new adhesive; Berger noted, ‘Since I had gained the reputation of a troubleshooter, Suhr asked me to formulate an adhesive that would be stronger than wax, free of the hazards of aqueous glue-paste, stick to oil paint, and be reversible.’ He opened his own studio and received his first research grant in 1967, and was lining paintings with BEVA 371 by 1969. BEVA (Berger ethylene vinyl acetate) became the most widely used paintings conservation adhesive by 1984.”
“Berger received at least 16 additional research grants and published over 60 papers. In 2000, Archetype Books published his major book Conservation of Paintings: Research and Innovations , written with William H. Russell. For more than 20 years Berger taught at workshops in Canada, UK, Italy, Austria, Spain, The Netherlands, Brazil, and in locations throughout the USA.”
“Peter Fodera said at the funeral service on 8 March 2006, ‘Gustav was passionate about his work and totally fascinated with problems concerning the mechanics and structure of artworks. He was intrepid, tenacious, and sensitive in his quest for solutions’. Janet Bridgland remembers working with Gustav on the editing of the 1993 and 1996 ICOM-CC preprints. She noted that Mira would call and ‘lay the groundwork for discussion, then Gustav would take the phone. By phone or in person, they were unfailingly polite and clearly functioned as a team. Always eager to share his latest findings, their enthusiasm was contagious.’”
“Gustav trained a number of young conservators and assistants. Jean D. Portell recorded a total of 23 students in her FAIC oral history interview with the Bergers on 3 August 1995. Peter Fodera remembers Gustav as his teacher reciting poems, quoting Goethe, or humming along to pieces on the classical radio station.”
“Berger’s co-researcher William Russell praised his ‘uncanny ability to identify fundamental behaviors observed in a variety of contexts’. Christopher Stavroudis was first drawn into the field by Berger’s 1975 article on BEVA and notes, ‘From developing BEVA and leading the movement to improve lining techniques, to the foam rubber “computers” that showed the distribution of stresses at tears, to the vast body of literature he has contributed to the field, he changed the mind set we bring to problem-solving in paintings conservation.’ Gustav is survived by his wife, his sons Ron and Raphael, five grand-children and one great-granddaughter.” – Joyce Hill Stoner- Studies in Conservation, Volume 51, p.155-156 (2006).