One of NSSAR’s most prized museum artifacts is the 1788 miniature portrait of Dr. James Craik by Charles Willson Peale. Dr. Craik was the personal physician to George Washington and attended to him at his death on December 14, 1799. For generations, the miniature had been passed down through the wives of the Craik male line. This miniature was donated by Mary & James S. Craik of Louisville, Kentucky in 2003. James Craik is a direct descendent of Dr. Craik who rose to the rank of Physician General of the Army during the Revolutionary War. The miniature is on display in the Mary & James Craik Special Collections Room in the SAR Genealogical Research Library.
Due to the age and condition of the miniature, it became necessary to find a conservator to clean and provide minor repairs to the painting. Dr. Carol Aiken came highly recommended by the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Aiken holds a Master’s degree in Art Conservation from Buffalo State University, New York and a Ph.D. in Preservation Studies from the University of Delaware. She specializes in miniature paintings and works with both museums as well as individual’s private collections. Dr. Aiken is part owner of the conservation firm Aiken & Ramer of Baltimore, Maryland.
On January 17, 2011, Dr. Aiken traveled to Louisville and began her work on the miniature. The process included carefully cleaning small amounts of mold and debris off the miniature as well as the glass. After polishing the metal case Dr. Aiken’s efforts revealed its true rose-gold color. These types of cases were popular from the 1790s to the early 1800s. It is likely that this case was crafted just a few years after Peale painted the miniature. Upon taking the miniature out of its case, Dr. Aiken discovered the name “Musgrave” etched into the inside back of the case. It is probable that it refers to James Musgrave the craftsman who did the case for Dr. Craik. Records document that Musgrave was a goldsmith and jeweler based in Philadelphia from 1793-1811.
In addition to the cleaning and polishing, Dr. Aiken also made minor adjustments to the miniature’s setting. Over many years, the painting had slipped from the glass. Aiken added a unique piece of rag board to the backing of the miniature in order to hold it tighter to the glass. She also identified a small watermark on the bottom of the painting.
The conservation of the Dr. James Craik miniature is just one example of the projects taken on by the NSSAR Museum Board. The Museum Board is grateful to Dr. Aiken for her services and is excited to know that the miniature will be able to be enjoyed by generations to come. We invite you to stop by and see the newly conserved miniature next time you are in the genealogical research library!