Object Story and Significance:

The unidentified man in this portrait is likely one of the earliest family members of Marcella Dear, the donor of this piece, to settle in New York Chinatown in the latter half of the 1800s. Marcella’s family, the Chins, opened and operated a number of businesses, including the Kwong Chong general store and famed Rice Bowl Restaurant at 44 Mott Street. A printed label attached to the portrait tells us that it was rendered at Imperial Studio at 42 Bowery, and the hybrid photographic/art process used to make it dates it to between the 1860s and 1910s, when crayon portraits such as this enjoyed popularity. Crayon portraits were made by using a solar enlarger and sunlight to project a small negative onto a larger sheet of bromide, silver or platinum-based photo paper. The resulting image from this early technology was usually only lightly printed, requiring the crayon portrait artist to retouch and strengthen the image with crayons, charcoal, and paints, thus producing a photographic image that also looked hand drawn.

More affordable because easier and quicker to produce than paintings requiring long sittings, crayon portraits made large-size portraits, once available to only the wealthiest of patrons, more mass accessible. They were nonetheless valued. This portrait, like others of its kind, was framed in a large gilded, or ornately decorated frame and would have been hung prominently and then subsequently passed down within the family.

Because of its medium, crayon portraits require extra care if they are to be well-preserved for the long term. As with this portrait, it was common to mount the photo paper to an acidic board that over time becomes brittle and prone to cracking. The surfaces of crayon portraits are also easily scratched and prone to fading with exposure to light. Your support would enable us to repair and archivally house this unique and possibly rare piece of family and photographic history.

Details of Damage:

Dirt and staining is most visible along the top edges and vertical streaks running down the length of the left side of the portrait.
This bottom edge shows an example of paint losses, likely caused by being housed within its original frame.
The center of this photo clearly shows an instance of bleeding and loss of the darker grey layer of paint.

Post-Fire Condition: 

This vulnerable crayon portrait is currently adhered to a thick acidic board that needs to be removed in order to prevent further acid migration from the board to the portrait and ensure its long term preservation. (The acidic board, over time, will become brittle and prone to cracking). Over the years, the portrait has accumulated various residues and been subject to acid transfer, discoloration, and staining, most visible in the vertical streaks running down the length of the left side of the portrait. To prevent further damage, the portrait has been removed from its original frame. The edges, where the frame held the portrait, have sustained staining and losses to its crayon or paint layer.

With the support of your donation, we would: 

  • Create a curved and smooth support on which the photograph can be placed face down to slowly peel off the acidic backing, bit by bit
  • If tested to be safe, use a moistened sheet to remove residues, discoloration, acidity, and staining
  • If necessary, line the back of the photo with archival grade Japanese paper
  • Inpaint paint losses as necessary
  • Humidify and flatten

Total Conservation Cost: $6,125

Please help us fund its conservation! Any amount–large or small–helps!

If you would like to make a contribution towards the conservation of this piece, please click to navigate to MOCA’s Donate Page and be sure to specify the object you would like to sponsor. Please also kindly send a brief email to to notify us of your donation.