AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — A fire more than a century ago nearly destroyed the well-known portrait of Civil War Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton III. The portrait currently hangs in the Aiken County Historical Museum, and museum staff are planning to further preserve the portrait, scorch marks and all.
The preservation is greatly needed, said Lauren Virgo, executive director of the Aiken County Historical Museum, though it is not planned right away due to financial restraints.
A crew of conservators with Carolina Conservation analyzed the portrait in early December and found several concerning issues.
Years of physical stress and UV light damage have caused the painting to sag and warp, causing flakes of paint to fall off in some areas.
“What’s happening is that, basically, there’s nothing holding the paint to the canvas,” Virgo said.
Money to preserve the portrait will have to come from future fundraisers the museum will hopefully be able to hold later in 2021, Virgo said.
A project like the Wade Hampton portrait preservation is “out of the norm” for the museum’s budget, Virgo said, as the museum receives $5,000 annually for the preservation of its artifacts. Preserving the portrait, due to its size and the basic work required, could exceed the budget and cost $20,000, Virgo estimates.
However, a plan is in place as to what the portrait needs and what will remain the same.
One such aspect will be the scorch marks on the portrait, the reminder of its near destruction at the Hampton Terrace in North Augusta, which caught fire on New Year’s Eve in 1916 .
The Hampton portrait was one of the few items to survive and make its way to the Aiken museum, where it has been since the 1990s, Virgo said. Due to its interesting history, the fire damage on the portrait will remain.
“The damage is the story,” Virgo said.
Several other artifacts, including three stained-glass windows from the First Baptist Church of Aiken, also are on the museum’s “wish list” for preservation.
In the meantime, the museum staff is focusing on revamping its county history exhibit on the first floor for Aiken County’s 150th anniversary.
The museum has allocated $20,000 with funding coming from South Carolina Humanities, an Aiken County accommodations tax grant and the Friends of the Aiken County Historical Museum. The funds can only be used for renovations for the museum’s interior, including new window tinting and shades that will protect artifacts from light damage.
The Wade Hampton III portrait will be relocated to the museum’s ballroom.
About the photo: Lauren Virgo, executive director of the Aiken County Historical Museum, examines the portrait of Civil War Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton III, on Dec. 28, 2020, in Aiken, S.C. A fire more than a century ago nearly destroyed the portrait, which currently hangs in the Aiken County Historical Museum. The museum staff are planning to further preserve the portrait, scorch marks and all. (Shiann Sivell/The Aiken Standard via AP)
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