As a recent acquisition, Birth Hood joins a large and diverse collection. Conservators (among other staff) are responsible for its care. Whenever possible, conservators strive to understand the materials and methods used in an artwork, as well as the artist’s intention for the object and how they would like it displayed, stored, and cared for in the future. Birth Hood arrived in excellent condition and did not require any repair or treatment. However, in preparation for repairing damage on another of Chicago’s four car hoods, the Getty Conservation Institute conducted a scientific study in 2011. The Getty study provided important insight into Chicago’s working process that helped us better understand Birth Hood.
Chicago began Birth Hood by preparing the metal, likely smoothing and sanding any irregularities or damages to its surface. The Getty’s examination determined a polyvinyl acetate (PVA) primer was used on their hood, with a calcium carbonate (chalk) filler. Birth Hood likely has a similar primer layer between the bare metal and paint layers. Chicago used at least sixteen distinct paint colors on Birth Hood, creating immaculately clean lines and curves in a symmetrical design. She applied multiple layers of clear coat, a resin without pigment, to the paint so she could buff the surface to a high shine without damaging the design. Chicago recalls using airbrushes and spray guns she sourced from automotive suppliers for the work.
Birth Hood has two creation dates, 1965 and 2011. This is unusual, and we communicated with Chicago about what it means. According to the artist, work began on Birth Hood “in 1965 when it was primed and the image transferred to the hood. Only one of the four car hoods was completed at the time. The rest remained in storage until 2011, when I decided to finish them.” She continued, “I used whatever paint was available at the auto-body school . . . The paint formulations have changed since [from 1965 to 2011] because some acrylic lacquers have been banned in several states or have been otherwise regulated.”