Don and Robin Ferrario acquired the Robertshaw home in 2017 as part of a commercial site development for an Auto Dealership. Dan Robertshaw and his family were living in the house at the time. The purchase contract allowed that the family could take any art from the property prior to the real estate closing, noting that the art was part of the house itself. The Robertshaw family ultimately did not pursue removal of the paintings, finding no practical way to remove them. The house would be demolished along with the paintings.
We were completely unaware of the Martha Robertshaw story or the paintings. We did not see the inside of the house until after the real estate closing. Several people asked if we had any plan to save the art. The paintings were done in the 1940s and 1950s. The scenes on the shower walls are in amazing condition, considering that the family continued to use that shower until 2017. An ordinary plastic shower curtain is the only thing that protected the paintings.
After visiting the house we fell in love with the paintings and began investigating methods to save them from destruction. The drywall in the house dates back to at least the 1920s. Everyone said it would be impossible to remove drywall that had been in place for almost 100 years.
The first step in preservation was the photography you see here on this web site. The second step was more difficult.
Removal from the house
We hired two very creative carpenters, Travis and Dennis. Many of the paintings were on both sides of the stud walls. The original plan would involve removing entire stud wall sections as complete assemblies by cutting the studs top and bottom.
There were two problems with removing entire wall sections. The first was the structure of the house. The stud walls supported the second floor and roof of the house. Some of the paintings were on the inside of exterior walls which could not be removed without collapsing the house.
The second obstacle was transportation and storage. The removed sections would be quite heavy and large. How would they be transported and stored?
The original plan was impractical. Travis and Dennis did their best removing the drywall on its own. The house would soon be demolished so there was nothing to lose by trying. It was likely to crumble, but maybe we could save at least a few pieces.
Travis and Dennis developed their own method of slicing the studs in place top to bottom, and literally peeling the sections back. They had to leave enough of the original studs in place to support the building above, but not break the drywall.
With each painting on the floor, they next removed the remaining portion of the nails and studs still attached. Great care was required in order to not further damage the paintings. The removed drywall paintings were then glued to plywood to prevent further crumbling.
We were able to save all the paintings. The collection is now safely in storage at Ferrario Auto Team in Elmira, NY. When the new Dealership is built on the site of the former Robertshaw home, we intend to display some of them to the public.
Don and Robin are now the caretakers of this marvelous collection. We will make the paintings available for short term exhibition with organizations who are able to protect them. Contact Don Ferrario at 607-734-1681.