Dutra's Dramatic Recovery


June 7, 2007

By Rosemary Maravetz, USGA

Far Hills, N.J. - The USGA Museum has been collecting and preserving essential parts of the game's rich history for more than 72 years.  In recent years, the Museum's collections have taken a more precise focus toward gathering material associated with the USGA and its 13 national championships.  Artifacts in the collection include memorabilia associated with champions and championships that help illustrate the USGA's history in a poignant way.  There are also artifacts of a more unusual nature that enhance this history and exemplify how the game of golf is steeped deeply in American tradition.

The illustration before ......

When the illustration for a Beech-Nut Gum advertisement by Howard Crosby Renwick was offered to the Museum, the poor condition of the painting was startling.  Still, the central image ofOlin Dutra, the 1934 U.S. Open champion at the top of his swing, was striking. Renwick, who is also known by the pseudonymHayden Hayden, is believed to have painted the image in 1935. Renwick actively painted illustrations for magazine covers and posters. His work was also widely used in advertisements for companies such as Coca Cola and DuPont from the 1920s to the 1940s. 

.... and after.

Dutra was likely selected for this advertising campaign due to his astonishing win at the 1934 U.S. Open. Suffering from severe stomach pain and having lost 15 pounds from a bout of dysentery, Dutra was so ill he had decided to withdraw from the championship.  He was urged on to play by his brother, Mortie, also a professional. After 36 holes, he found himself eight strokes behind. Remarkably, Dutra was able to come back, shooting rounds of 71 and 72 to beatGene Sarazen by one stroke. The eight strokes Dutra had to make up over the final 36 holes were all the more impressive as he struggled with his illness to achieve an incredible victory. 

It was the Museum's responsibility to obtain this illustration by Renwick in an effort to salvage what remained of this story, one that was not previously documented. As soon as the painting was acquired, it was immediately sent to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts, where many of the Museum's paintings receive treatment. 

Upon its arrival, the piece was examined by paintings conservatorSandra L. Webber. In her report, she noted that the canvas was scarred with eleven tears and punctures, various scratches, severe staining and flaking paint. The tears had existed for so long that the edges could no longer be aligned. Water damage indicated that the canvas may have been completely soaked at some point in its history. Water had also taken a toll on letters that were once undoubtedly vibrant. The red letters that had been rendered with an additive of sand or quartz had all but washed away. Mold and insect droppings were also found in areas of the canvas.  

"One of the most interesting things I found was that the painting was probably done by two different hands," said Webber. "Renwick painted the image of Dutra as well as the background and a sign painter most likely did the lettering." This observation was supported by the finding that the lettering was not drawn with oil paint, like the rest of the composition. Other than the obvious challenges in treating this work, Webber discovered that extra care would be needed to clean the painting without washing away what remained of the water-sensitive lettering. Although the red 'Beech-Nut Gum' letters had nearly disappeared, Webber took measures to prevent any further losses by chemically sealing all of the text before cleaning the canvas. Text used for outdoor advertisements, Webber points out, would have been commonly textured with a gritty material, but it is unknown why this technique was employed on a piece not intended for outdoor use. 

After approximately 70 hours of Webber's painstaking work, the results are astonishing.  The surface of the painting was cleaned with ".a mild enzymatic solution," according to the conservator's final treatment report. This effective cleaning solution is more commonly known as saliva, an agent often used by conservators. The white border was extensively inpainted to camouflage repairs and permanent stains. Losses and repairs made during treatment were filled and painted as needed.  The decision to restore, and not simply clean and stabilize, the 'Beech-Nut Gum' text was made because simple cleaning would have done little to improve its appearance. The letters were recreated with their original texture by mixing paint with black sand granules. Tears were repaired with lightweight Japanese tissue paper adhered to the back of the canvas. As a final step, the painting was spray varnished to further consolidate the paint to the canvas.  

The USGA is committed not only to preserving the traditions of the game, but also to preserving and documenting its history with its continued support of the Museum. Oftentimes, the Museum has the unique opportunity to obtain and preserve artifacts that would otherwise be lost, forgotten or would never be available for the public to enjoy.  By preserving the artifacts that are an integral part of the game's history, the Museum is helping to preserve the game itself. The Renwick painting, as well as more than 1,000 other artifacts, will be on display when the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History opens in the summer of 2008.  

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