Reynolda House Museum of American Art selected as a 2019 Bank of America Art Conservation Project grant recipient

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (October 17, 2019)—Reynolda House Museum of American Art has been selected as a 2019 Bank of America Art Conservation Project (ACP) grant recipient to restore Bootleggers (1927) by Thomas Hart Benton. The grant funding will be used for much-needed conservation work that will focus on the painting’s surface coating.

The Bank of America Art Conservation Project provides grant funding to nonprofit cultural institutions throughout the world to conserve historically or culturally significant works of art that are in danger of deterioration. Since the Art Conservation Project began in 2010, Bank of America has provided grants for more than 170 projects in 33 countries on six continents to conserve paintings, sculptures, and archaeological and architectural pieces that are critically important to cultural heritage and the history of art.

Benton described Bootleggers as his first painting to be influenced by the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros, who created works of social criticism and utopianism. Though the painting has been included in Benton retrospectives and survey exhibitions of 20th century American art, it has condition issues that have made further movement risky. Benton performed restorations on the painting in the 1960s that involved the addition of a significant amount of acrylic paint to the existing egg tempera and oil. Both Benton’s painting technique and restoration efforts created a complex paint structure with a unique set of challenges. Over time, the synthetic coating has chemically linked with paint layers, requiring ever stronger solvents during treatment. At a deeper level, the painting is compromised by separation or lifting of paint from the canvas and layers of paint from one another. 

“We’re here to help our communities thrive and remain vibrant,” said Derek Ellington, Triad market president, Bank of America. “We believe in the power of the arts to educate and enrich our lives here in the Triad by creating greater cultural understanding. The Art Conservation Project is a key element of Bank of America’s arts program and we are proud to support Reynolda as a selection of this global recognition.”

Allison Perkins, the museum’s executive director, said, “Thomas Hart Benton wrote that this painting launched him into a decades-long project of ‘containing the life of my time.’ In this work, especially, he contained the energy of the 20th century: racing trains, darting airplanes, humming wires of electricity, made all the more dizzying by being hopped up on bootlegged hooch at the height of Prohibition. Benton shows the rough underbelly of Jazz Age excess, with all the sinewy seductiveness that makes his work instantly recognizable. Thomas Hart Benton is one of the master storytellers in art. Thanks to Bank of America’s Art Conservation Grant, his dramatic depiction of the 1920s will continue to make news.”

Bootleggers ranks among the most beloved works in a collection once characterized as the “finest concentration of American art in a public collection south of Washington” (John Wilmerding, professor in American art emeritus, Princeton University). Once restored, the painting will again be used as a teaching tool in education and will be available for loans to other museums.

In Bootleggers, Benton, a leader in the Regionalist art movement, combined several dramatic vignettes to create a complex narrative that explores the seamy underside of illegal liquor trafficking during Prohibition. Using a circular composition that emphasizes the cause-and-effect nature of the trafficking cycle, Benton presents a corrupt, formally-attired capitalist paying off a bootlegger who pulls bottles out of a crate, an anonymous laborer loading yet more crates onto a plane, another plane in flight and a violent hold-up taking place in front of a complicit police officer. In the center of the composition, a train powers across the cityscape, undoubtedly transporting more illegal goods.

Benton painted Bootleggers during a pivotal time in his career in the early 20th century. Its large scale reflects his recent mural project, the American Historical Epic series. But the contemporary setting, in the Prohibition era of the 1920s, points the way toward his next project, a series he called America Today. As he noted in a letter to Barbara Babcock Millhouse, the Museum’s founder who purchased the painting in 1971, the painting was his “first entrance into painting history, which was not history when it was painted but became history with the passage of time.”

The restoration of Benton’s Bootleggers was one of 22 Art Conservation Projects announced at this year’s recipient award announcement event hosted by Bank of America on Oct. 16 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Recipients in 10 countries and 11 U.S. cities are receiving grant funding through the 2019 Bank of America Art Conservation Project.

Reynolda House and Bootleggers are in select company as a 2019 recipient. The  selection of works being recognized as 2019 ACP recipients include The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh and The Bather by Paul Cézanne – The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Spring by Georgia O’Keeffe – Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe; ten large-scale assemblage paintings by Thornton Dial, Sr. – High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Portrait of Madame Josette Gris by Juan Gris –  Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; a diverse selection of works at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico; and Scènes des massacres de Scio (“The Massacre at Chios”) by Eugene Delacroix –  Musée Du Louvre, Paris. Reynolda is also the only ACP grant recipient in the Carolinas. 

About Bank of America
Bank of America is one of the world’s leading financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving approximately 66 million consumer and small business clients with approximately 4,300 retail financial centers, including approximately 2,400 lending centers, 2,600 financial centers with a Consumer Investment Financial Solutions Advisor and 1,900 business centers; approximately 16,600 ATMs; and award-winning digital banking with nearly 38 million active users, including approximately 29 million mobile users. Bank of America is a global leader in wealth management, corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes, serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to approximately 3 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations across the United States, its territories and approximately 35 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE: BAC) is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. For more information, please visit the Art Conservation Project website.

About Reynolda
Reynolda, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions and historic greenspaces. The 51-year-old art museum at the center of Reynolda’s 180 acres, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of the country manor of R. J. Reynolds. Spanning 250 years, the collection is an uncompromisingly selective one, a chronology of American art, with each artist represented by one work of major significance. Highlights are: Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Stuart Davis, Martin Johnson Heade, Alex Katz, Lee Krasner, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent and Grant Wood. The collection was assembled by the unerring eye of Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of R. J. and Katharine Reynolds. The Reynolda experience includes a free app called Reynolda Revealed; touring exhibitions in the museum’s Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing; formal gardens, conservatory and walking trails of Reynolda Gardens; and more than 25 of the estate’s original buildings repurposed as shops and restaurants in Reynolda Village. Reynolda, located at 2250 Reynolda Road, is part of Wake Forest University. For more information, please visit

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