Conservator Reyes-Vizzuett at work on Murphy’s 1878 portrait.
Alejandro Reyes-Vizzuett, 60, calls himself an art doctor. Using cotton swabs, tiny paintbrushes, solvents, and a tender touch, he has helped heal more than 400 dilapidated works for museums and collectors from Monterey, Calif., to Mexico City. You can see his latest saves at the Heritage Park Museum in Sunnyvale, Calif., a newly opened replica of an 1849 home built by the city's founder, Martin Murphy Jr. (408) 749-0220, heritageparkmuseum.org.
Q What are you restoring for Heritage Park Museum?
A Bronze candelabras, a Tiffany clock, and paintings, including a portrait of Martin Murphy III from around 1878.
Q Your prescription for Mr. Murphy?
A I'm removing the oxidized varnish and the heavy grime on top. Then I'll touch up some spots, protect the painting with the right varnish, and restretch the canvas. Before I started you couldn't even see the signature of the painter, Andrew P. Hill, a well-respected local artist from the 1870s to the 1920s.
Q Have a favorite period?
A I like the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Artists at that time were more dedicated. They needed to know how to prepare the oil paints and the materials—and then create art.
Q Other great pieces you've worked on?
A An Italian ceiling at Hearst Castle, a painting by Hill of a cattle drive now at Henry W. Coe State Park, and The Thinker at San Francisco's Legion of Honor. I also need to do some eye surgery on an 18th-century sculpture of St. Anthony at the Old Mission Santa Inés in Solvang.
Q Why work so hard at conservation?
A It's for future generations. We have a lot of art all around us; we need to learn how to respect it.
Photography by Christine McNeill
This article was first published in January 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.