At the University of Birmingham Primrose studied studio painting, art history, and related subjects. His moment of truth came when he began questioning scientific properties of art materials in one of his classes. He found answers across the street at Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.
“Whenever I had technical questions about painting, I walked across to the museum’s conservation department. I was not born to be an artist, and was not interested in exhibiting or selling my work,” says Primrose. And so he discovered his own creative bent. Art restoration fulfilled his needs. It just made sense to him.
He had more of a passion to preserve old art than to make new art. After eight years of an in-depth apprenticeship with a team of masters schooled in of chemistry, physics and art history, Primrose sought part-time freelance work from dealers. He worked in London in his own shop, exclusively for major art dealers. In essence, says Primrose, “Art conservation is the relationship between art and science.” The art restorer-conservator, by nature, has to be a good improviser in finding solutions to problems that crop up in the restoration process. In a sense, art restoration combines forensics and archaeology.
Not long ago, Primrose restored two portraits in the Martha’s Vineyard Museum that are part of its permanent collection: The Beetles Twins by an anonymous artist, and Captain Zebulon Northrop Tilton by noted American artist Thomas Hart Benton. Primrose was also consulted by the Frist Center for the Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to assess a painting in a Vineyard resident’s private collection for a forthcoming exhibition.
In 2009, Primrose restored an 1800s painting of the China Trade clipper ship Niantic in the collection of Cynthia Riggs, whose great grandfather was the ship’s captain. Riggs, a Martha’s Vineyard resident and mystery writer, loaned the painting to the San Francisco Maritime Museum. The hull of the actual clipper ship Niantic was excavated in San Francisco years ago during pre-construction of the Transamerica Building known as “The Pyramid Building.” (Read “The Niantic Sails Again” above for the whole story.)