Sunday, November 28, 2021
Nov. 28, 2021

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Working in Clark County: Troy Lucas, fine arts conservator

By , Columbian News Assistant
3 Photos
Troy Lucas, a fine arts conservator, works on a painting by an unidentified artist inside his lab.
Troy Lucas, a fine arts conservator, works on a painting by an unidentified artist inside his lab. Photo Gallery

Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Mary Ricks:; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.

“I examine each painting like a doctor examining a patient,” Troy Lucas said as he explained his work as one of only five conservators in the Portland-Clark County metro area. “The process is like unraveling a puzzle.”

Name: Troy Lucas.

Owns Lucas Conservation Laboratory Inc. in central Vancouver’s Maplewood neighborhood.

Age: 55.

Professional background: I was a teenager when I began working with my father, Jack Lucas, a gilder and framer. My dad had clients from throughout Washington and I was exposed to those artists and their paintings. I left the area and kicked around California for a few years. I finally came back to Vancouver when I was in my mid-20s to work as my dad’s assistant in the lab. It took awhile but we began to build a friendship. I worked with him for the last eight years of his life, and during the last year we worked together, he considered me a professional. And for the past 24 years I have tried to do my best to continue to do good work.

My father was the first painting conservator in the Northwest. He was a framer for many people in the Portland-Vancouver arts community and after a period of time the artists were asking him to do small repairs. With encouragement from Portland Art Museum’s director, my dad apprenticed with a conservator at the museum in the early 1960s. He opened his own painting conservation lab in 1964 here in Vancouver. I continue to run the lab in the same location. For the past five years I have had an assistant, Tina Henderson, who has a degree in art history from Reed College.

Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Mary Ricks:; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.

Education: I studied art and art history at Clark College. I attended the Portland Art Museum’s Art School, where both of my parents were graduates. I also interned with the museum’s chief conservator, Sonja Sopher.

Why it’s called a lab: I work a lot with chemistry in doing a restoration. A conservator takes the painting back to the beginning. The job starts with a canvas stretched over a frame. The canvas is covered with glue sizing, then it’s painted and sometimes covered with a layer of varnish. As the years go by, dirt accumulates on top, paint falls off, maybe someone touches it up, more paint is added and by the time it is 40 years old it is covered with gunk. We unravel that puzzle down to the original first paint. Then I begin to reconstruct the painting.

Varnish then and now: Varnish that artists used years ago to protect their paintings had a slightly yellow color and as it aged, it yellowed more. But it was all they had available. The varnish was also slightly tacky and dust stuck to it. Since about the 1950s, artists have much better products available, which are absolutely clear and never tacky.

Special tools: I use razor-sharp surgical scalpels and dental tools in my work. Also, I make some of my tools.

Most rewarding part of job: The smile on a client’s face after they have seen the work. The money is good but this is a sporadic business. There are five conservators in the Portland-Clark County metropolitan area and I am lucky I am busy most of the time.

Most challenging part of job: The most difficult work is cosmetic and cleaning. You don’t know what is on the painting. I examine each painting like a doctor examining a patient: description of the painting, what condition it is in, list all the things that are wrong with it and what we intend to do to correct the condition.

Personal/business philosophy: My philosophy is to make certain the client is happy. I want to make sure that the things I am doing are consistent and I am using current materials. I am more concerned about doing as little as possible in restoration or the painting becomes mine instead of the artist’s. Conservators nationwide follow a code of ethics: Be very careful to never take off what’s original, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. And use materials that can safely be reversed at a later date.

Old paintings: My dad and I worked on a painting at the Seattle Art Museum, painted by an Italian master, that was 500 years old. I continue to restore the paintings at Mount Angel Abbey. One of them is 400 years old.

Something you would like to do over: I always look forward not back. I was trained well because I believe my father was a genius. I think I am doing well because I don’t get paintings coming back to me.

Best feature of my community: The community is still growing and its history is still growing. It is exciting to think what Clark County might be doing next. There are a lot of people in the arts community in Vancouver, Salmon Creek and the east side. There are so many more galleries now.

What would make your community a better place: I think there are many ways the city is on the right track. We have a lot of history like the old fort, the barracks, and we have such great potential.

Favorite restaurants: Christine’s Restaurant, Tommy O’s, Plainsman Restaurant and McMenamins on the Columbia.

One word to describe yourself: Conversationalist.

Hobbies: I collect fantasy trading cards.

Favorite travel destination: New Orleans, northern California and Canada.

Most interesting book in last 12 months: “Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction” by Paul J. Nahin.

One thing you want to do this year: A couple of my colleagues and I hope to get the opportunity to restore paintings on the walls of a Catholic church in Portland.

Something you want to do within five years: I want to make sure my granddaughter is on her way to being well-educated.

Person you’d most like to meet:
Stephen Hawking. He has excelled even though he was diagnosed with a motor neurone disease in the 1960s and was given two years to live. He went on to Cambridge and from 1979 to 2009 he held the post of Lucasian Professor at Cambridge, the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663.

Columbian News Assistant