It’s painstaking work: the conservation of a painting from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York that is almost 170 years old.

The work is Samuel Bell Waugh’s “The Bay and Harbor of New York.” Conservator Garry McGowan and his son Adam are repairing an old tear on the canvas in order to stabilize it. 

What You Need To Know

  • ”Preservation in Progress: Picturing Immigration” is an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York

  • Conservator Gary McGowan will be at the museum three days a week working on a nearly 170-year-old painting

  • ”The Bay and Harbor of New York” depicts Irish immigrants arriving in New York in the mid-1800s

The McGowans are not working on the painting in a studio, but in a first-floor gallery at the museum. It’s part of an exhibition called “Preservation in Progress: Picturing Immigration.”

Three days a week, visitors can watch the process, which is a rare opportunity to see how museums around the world care for objects that are old and fragile.

“We thought it would be an interesting, and frankly, educational opportunity to bring the public in and show them a little bit of how this work happens on a day-to-day basis,” Lilly Tuttle, a curator, said. 

There are hands-on activities for folks to see what it takes to care for items in a museum’s collection. Plus, there is an overhead camera that allows for a closeup of the work being done to a 16-foot-long centerpiece of the exhibition.

It’s an image of Irish immigrants disembarking at the southern tip of Manhattan in the mid-1800s. 

Other depictions of immigrant arrivals in New York over the years continue the conversation, whether it be from Ellis Island or an area airport or train depot.

“This question of how immigrants are depicted, how the moment of arrival is represented through visual culture, is one of the important topics of this exhibition, because of course this is really resonating with a lot of New Yorkers now,” Tuttle said. 

To get a close-up look at conservation in action, McGowan will be on site Thursday, Friday and Saturday for as long as they are working on the painting. 

They expect to be wrapped up sometime in mid-July. The exhibition will be up through Oct. 13.