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 Morton C. Bradley, Jr.  (1912 - 2004)

About: Morton C. Bradley, Jr.
 

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: sculpture, restoration, writing, collecting art

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Morton Bradley, at 92 renowned sculptor, art restorer

Obituary by Gloria Negri, Boston Globe Staff September 30, 2004

In the dead of winter, art restorer Morton C. Bradley Jr. could be found hunched over an art masterpiece in the backyard of his Arlington home, in a parka and fingerless gloves, perhaps with a neighborhood cat perched on his shoulder, working meticulously to bring back the painting's original luster.  A man also known for his dazzling geometric metal sculptures that were widely exhibited, Mr. Bradley was restoring art at his table until several months ago when he fell and was hospitalized for broken hip.  Mr. Bradley, 92, who was considered the dean of American art restorers in the 1940s and 1950s, died Sunday at his home of cancer discovered when he was being treated for his hip.  While hospitalized, friends said, Mr. Bradley, once head conservator at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, was making sketches for new sculptures and planning to move into another home.

On the outdoor table, summer and winter, Mr. Bradley did restoration work for many museums, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, galleries, and private collectors.  He used the outdoors not only to capture the natural light but also to dispel the strong odor of the solvents and varnishes he used.  Often with classical music playing in the background, neighborhood children and cats wandered by to watch. A lifelong bachelor, Mr. Bradley loved them all. When she was a child, his neighbor, Elizabeth Regan Dellanno, recalled Mr. Bradley giving her water and a blob of cotton on a dowel so she could mimic him by painting on the flagstone walk.  Mr. Bradley was also a passionate collector of 19th-century American paintings, many of which he donated to various museums, including the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard.  He willed the remainder of his large collection and his sculptures to Indiana University Art Museum.  Mr. Bradley was a generous man, said Kahlil Gibran, the Boston painter and sculptor and his friend of 60 years.  When Gibran, godson of the famous poet, left his job as restorer at the Fogg Art Museum to spend a summer painting in Provincetown, he said it was Mr. Bradley, his replacement at the Fogg, who asked him if he needed some money. "I had $45 in the bank," Gibran said. "Before I left, a $200 check arrived from Bob.  He was the linchpin in my career."

A cum laude graduate of the Harvard College class of 1933, and a very private man, Mr. Bradley never bragged about his achievements.  But friends remembered him for his brilliant mind, his generous spirit, and his classical piano playing.  "Bob was a genius," said Carroll Wales of Arlington, whom Mr. Bradley mentored in restoration.  "It was almost impossible to ask him a question about restoration that he couldn't answer."  Wales was studying art at Harvard in the 1940s when he first met Mr. Bradley at the Fogg.  "It was a time when there were not too many restoration studios and the Fogg was one of the earliest and one of the busiest," said Wales, who took lessons there.  In 1966, after floods in Florence, Italy, damaged many priceless art works, Mr. Bradley and Wales were among a group of international restorers who went there to help save them.  Wales said Mr. Bradley taught him that a restorer must have "a tremendous amount of patience, has to love the work he is doing, and make sure he is not harming but achieving his goal."

In his restoration work, Mr. Bradley made several innovative discoveries, Wales said.  One was that meat tenderizer could remove glue from the back of a painting.  "To scrape it off would do damage to the painting," Wales said.  Another of his discoveries, Wales said, was that the paper used to make tea bags served just as well as the harder-to-get Japanese rice paper used to cover a painting when work is being done on its back side.

In the late 1940s, Mr. Bradley began creating his mostly metal geometric sculptures, hung like mobiles and exhibited mostly at museums and colleges including the Museum of Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He loved them so much, his friends said, he declined to sell even one.  The largest of Mr. Bradley's sculptures, named The Tree was 7 feet in diameter and had 5,005 pieces of brass tubing in 32 colors, said Hal Robinson, an Arlington machinist and engineer.  He conceived of the idea for the work, and Robinson and other members of Mr. Bradley's "loosely knit renaissance workshop" of friends helped in its creation.  "The sculptures turned very slowly," Robinson said. "With The Tree, the movement showed it changing with the seasons.  I never saw it but Mr. B could see in his mind how these geometric things could fit together and work."

Mr. Bradley was also a published author. His The Treatment of Paintings appeared in 1950. "It represented a turning point in the field of art technology and remains a historic reference for art restorers," Priest said.  Mr. Bradley even restructured the Gospels into cadenced form in The New Testament in Cadenced Form in which he changed the structure of the wording to make the lines shorter and easier to read.  Gibran painted the cover for his friend's book.

Mr. Bradley was born in Arlington, one of two children of Morton Clark Bradley and Marie Louise (Boison), both Indiana natives.  His maternal grandfather taught modern languages at Indiana University and his grandmother taught drawing in the Bloomington, Ind. schools.  Mr. Bradley considered himself a Hoosier, friends said, and still kept the 100-year-old Christmas cactus his parents brought when they moved from Indiana, Gibran said.

On graduating from Harvard, Mr. Bradley won a Bacon Scholarship that allowed him to travel to Italy and then to Belgium, where he studied piano.  He still played classical music on his piano until arthritis set in several years ago, and attended the opera with friends.  "Bob didn't want to retire," Wales said.

While Mr. Bradley has no immediate family, there were, Gibran said, "countless people who adored him because he was simple and honest and pure. He quipped a lot. He would always say, 'Well, I'll brood about that.' "

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