Volume 7, Number 4, 1998

The fine art of banking

The late N.C. Wyeth's historic $1 million homage to working families-believed in 1932 to be the largest U.S. painting of its kind in any public building- was restored to its original luster this summer, thanks to the Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS) and the Winterthur/UD Program in Art Conservation.

WSFS, the principal subsidiary of WSFS Financial Corp., invested $40,000 to restore Wyeth's massive mural, Apotheosis of the Family, created to commemorate the bank's 100th anniversary. In June, Winterthur/UD conservators started work on scaffolding during banking hours in a busy, public lobby at 838 Market St. in Wilmington, Del., thereby providing visitors with a rare opportunity to witness the meticulous restoration process.

"Our bank was founded 166 years ago on a promise to serve ordinary citizens, at a time when traditional banks were catering only to wealthy clients," WSFS President Marvin ("Skip") Schoenhals says. "Because Wyeth's mural celebrates the achievements of working families, it has become inextricably linked with WSFS."

Similarly, artwork by various Wyeth family members and by famed American illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911) now represents "an integral aspect of life in the Brandywine Valley," says Joyce Hill Stoner, UD professor of art conservation.

Spanning a space some 60 feet long and 19 feet high in the bank's central branch building, Apotheosis of the Family is painted in oil across five pieces of canvas. The mural shows a family standing in front of a house, surrounded by neighbors harvesting fruit, weaving baskets, planting crops, hauling fish and chopping timber. Apotheosis also traces the seasons, from left to right, as spring merges into summer, then autumn and winter.

Apotheosis falls within a category of "grand-manner classical" mural paintings, popular in the late 1800s, intended to celebrate fine art while inspiring hard work and high ideals, Stoner says. At the same time, however, bright colors, unusual perspectives and powerful abstract forms of clouds, smoke and sea reflect Wyeth's interest in avant- garde Russian art and works by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), she says.

Unlike Apotheosis, earlier art by N.C. Wyeth, such as the Treasure Island series, featured dark colors and highly precise renderings of pirates and ships, says UD graduate student Alexis Miller, who was on-site daily to manage the student restoration team.

Because some sections of the mural, such as a gold border, had never been cleaned, grime had been accumulating for the past 66 years. A protective varnish, applied in the late 1970s and now rapidly yellowing, had to be removed, too. In addition, the painting was retouched to hide seams between the different sections of canvas. To complete this work, the Winterthur/UD conservators used new gel-based solvents and resin soaps, developed by Richard Wolbers, associate professor of art conservation, whose background includes medical research as well as art conservation.

-Ginger Pinholster

Striking up a partnership

A campus banking partnership between Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS) and the University established this fall allows students to combine a WSFS ATM card with the University's existing campuswide cashless purchasing program, the UD#1 Card. The first phase allows students to make debit purchases both on and off the campus. The second phase-likely to be implemented by the start of the new year-will merge the functions of both cards and allow students to transfer funds from one account to another. The University's UD#1 Card functions as a student's I.D. card and gives access to various services and functions, including meals, events, debit accounts, copiers, gated parking and other campus services.