Written by Jessica Cebra, ICFA Departmental Assistant
ICFA’s collections are known for its documentation of architecture, mosaics, frescoes and other aspects of material culture from Byzantium, but the actual fieldworkers and skilled craftsmen who worked to restore and conserve these centuries-old buildings and artworks deserve recognition. Here we’d like to highlight the work of Carroll Fenton Wales who was hired by the Byzantine Institute in 1952 and continued to live and work in Istanbul for nine years, specializing in painting conservation.
By the approval of the Directorate General of Museums of the Turkish Republic in 1951, and under the direction of Paul A. Underwood, the Byzantine Institute set out to uncover, clean, restore and conserve the frescoes in Kariye Camii (originally The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, and now the Kariye Museum), in Istanbul, which had been plastered and whitewashed over repeatedly to conceal all representational imagery when the Byzantine era church was used as a mosque during the Ottoman period. According to Underwood’s reports, over the years there had been previous ‘crude’ attempts by unknown persons to uncover small areas of the paintings. There was evidence of scraping and the use of knives to break away the crust of the whitewash, as well as superficial and ineffective cleaning techniques. While Ernest J. W. Hawkins, the Assistant Director of the Byzantine Institute, supervised the project, Mr. Carroll Wales was in charge of executing the technical conservation work. Commencing in 1952, the conservation staff was joined by Lawrence J. Majewski and Constantine Tsaousis in 1953, and by Charles Tauss in 1954, who were all known for their skillful and patient work.