The Coca-Cola Archives in Atlanta are home to more than 1,000
pieces of original artwork – each with its own story. Experts are on call to provide each piece with
the necessary TLC, depending on its condition.
“We love to see Coca-Cola artwork come through the door. It’s always
interesting to see the different types of advertising art that was used throughout
the company’s history,” said Larry Shutts, a conservator of paintings at the Atlanta
Art Conservation Center, where most Coca-Cola artwork goes when it needs
Our Newest Addition
Our latest project is an oil painting purchased last September at the Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia Auction. It’s at the Conservation Center, located about 15 miles from Coca-Cola’s headquarters, where staff members are working to bring it back to life. When Coke acquired the piece, it was rolled up and missing a key element— the iconic Coca-Cola Red Disc. It needed some serious restoration work to make it presentable.
Turns out this oil painting has a right to show some age— it’s going on 74 years old. The piece was created in 1939 by an unknown artist as an advertisement. Over the years, many well-known illustrators and painters, such as Norman Rockwell and Haddon Sunblom created advertising pieces for Coca-Cola, many of which are considered iconic, having been reproduced in calendars, print ads and billboards.
Shutts was the first person to inspect this piece when I
brought it to them for evaluation. Then Savant and Thierry Boutet, assistant conservators
of paintings, also inspected it and discussed with Larry what treatment steps needed
to be taken to restore it. Immediately they determined that the red disc
missing from the painting had originally been glued on after it was painted. With
no reference to make another disc, Larry needed a “sample” Coca-Cola disc from
another piece of art. This required finding approximately the same sized disc,
so they could create an applique to reaffix to that same spot.
When to Call the Conservationists
The Heritage Communications team at Coke performs many basic preservation steps to protect all of the company’s pieces. Phil Mooney, vice president of Heritage Communications, has seen many pieces come in over the years. He says it’s important to recognize when a piece requires more intensive care than his team can provide. “While we can preserve and slow down any deterioration of artwork in the archives through proper lighting, temperature, handling and storage, there are times when art is damaged beyond these basic preservation techniques,” said Mooney. “That’s when we send the artwork to Larry and his staff.”
The Coke archives staff conducts surface cleaning and flattens out rolled-up art. However, when a piece is torn or needs to be retouched, we call in the professionally trained conservators. These experts hold Master of Art degrees, a certificate in conservation, and have logged hundreds of hours repairing priceless pieces.
At the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, Coke’s treasures are in good company. Among our old advertisements are some of the most important objects, photographs, paintings, sculptures and works on paper sent from museums such as The High Museum in Atlanta, The Telfair Museum in Savannah, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama.
Steps to Conserving: the Stories a Piece Can Tell
“I like to sit down and do a visual inspection of the art and talk with the owner about the history of the piece,” said Shutts. “I also like to know how the piece was stored. Was it over a fireplace? Or sitting in a closet? Has it been stretched out or rolled up? Was the art cleaned in any way by the owner?”
The inspection and answers to those questions help Larry determine the extent of the damage the piece may have suffered and the steps his staff will need to take to restore it. Shutts then sends a detailed written recommendation to the owner with costs and a work timeline. The report for our piece of art lists 21 distinct steps, from cleaning to framing.
Before he starts any work, Shutts takes a “before” digital image, followed by another during treatment, and when the work is completed, an “after.”
How You Can Protect Artwork at Home
Shutts offers four simple tips to conserving your your family treasures, heirlooms and paintings:
- Art is meant to be hung up and enjoyed! Don’t leave it in a closet where it could be damaged from being hit or dropped.
- Clean artwork with light dusting – do not use any types of sprays.
- Keep your art away from direct light, and don’t hang it over a fireplace – soot from fires will coat the art.
- Occasionally inspect your art and determine if you see any cracking, rippling, or paint flakes. At that point the art will need to be evaluated for professional conservation.
And if you think your piece is too far gone, Shutts told me about a woman who thought her oil painting looked dingy and took cleaning to a whole new level. She removed it from the frame and actually washed the canvas in her washing machine!
“It sounds unbelievable but true,” he said, laughing“I’m glad I didn’t have to try to conserve what was left of the piece.” Do you have artwork you’d like Larry to evaluate? Email him at at: email@example.com.
More on Journey
- Disney and Coca-Cola Archivists Swap Stories on Shared History
- Driving Home the Message of Atlanta's Civil Rights Legacy
- Sitting In and Standing Up: Unsung Heroes of Civil Rights Movement Reflect on Soda Fountain Protests
- Coca-Cola Salesman's Career in Mississippi Started During Civil Rights Movement
- 10 Artists, 10 Bottles and 10 Stories: Meet the Atlantans Behind World of Coca-Cola’s Newest Exhibit