Elizabeth “Bette” Carroll Hollyday, a fine art conservator who handled precious works of paper during a long career in the museum field, died of heart failure Oct. 26 at Broadmead Retirement Community in Cockeysville. The former North Baltimore resident was 90.
Born in Sparks on Belfast Road, she was the daughter of William Curtis Carroll, an insurance agent and his wife, Virginia Lupo, whose family lived at the nearby Loveton farm. She was a 1947 graduate of Bryn Mawr School and earned a degree in art history from Goucher College. She also had a master’s degree in education.
As a young woman, she worked as a hostess at the Milton Inn on York Road.
She began an association with the Walters Art Museum and worked closely with Elisabeth C.G. Packard, the founding head of its conservation department.
“Miss Packard mentored my mother and brought her along in the field so that eventually she could go on her own and do arts conservation as a private business,” said her daughter, Jennie Hollyday Iglehart of Roland Park. “My mother was a perfectionist. She wanted only the best. She could be a challenging person.”
Mrs. Hollyday lived on Melrose Avenue in the Orchards neighborhood. She converted her dining room into an art studio and had shallow tanks constructed in her basement. She used these water-filled tubs to soak and clean damaged and discolored paper documents.
She was a contract employee at the Baltimore Museum of Art and worked closely with its curators. She also spent periods of time at Colonial Williamsburg where she did restoration work. For nearly six years she lived in Philadelphia and also a consultant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“She was very much involved with the conservation of George Lucas collection of 19th century French prints,” said Jay Fisher, the director of the Matisse Center at Baltimore Museum of Art. “She was conscientious and deeply committed to her work.”
Robert A. Zimmerman, a former Baltimore Museum of Art exhibition designer, said: “She was very good at her craft and did it correctly. She was also a very ethical person.”
Mrs. Hollyday also did work for the Winterthur Museum and the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Among her clients was painter Jamie Wyeth.
Stiles T. Colwill, a former Maryland Historical Society, recalled Mrs. Hollyday and her work.
“She was a brilliant conservator,” he said. “She was light of hand. In conservation, you want to salvage a piece but you don’t want it to look brand new when finished. Bette could do an invisible repair to paper and if a document or print had foxed and yellowed, she could bring it back so that it retained its qualities of age and not appear to be bleached.”
She had numerous private clients in Baltimore and was a Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation.
She worked on the preservation of the elaborate 18th century marriage and baptismal certificates now considered examples of folk art. Known as frakturs, these documents, created by German American calligrapher watercolorists, often became stuck with old glues to picture frame backings and other surfaces.
In one case, she wrote in a scholarly article of having to remove a valuable fraktur that had been glued to the inside of a wood blanket chest. The trick, she said, was to neither damage the chest or the certificate.
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She employed a series of wet blotters weighted by plate glass to drive moisture through the fraktur paper to swell its adhesive and loosen it.
Mrs. Hollyday was an avid tennis player who competed on the Bryn Mawr School courts as a younger woman. She also played duplicate bridge at the Valley Bridge Club; friends said she was a competitive player who was skilled at the game. She was also a member of the Hamilton Street Club.
She also painted in watercolors and collected American furniture and Canton china.
She was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer parish and moved to Broadmead in 2007.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include another daughter, Elisabeth “Lissie” Hollyday Flanagan of Bronxville, New York; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Her marriages to Ernst Gunther Klesper, a Johns Hopkins University chemist, and to Guy T. Hollyday, a University of Pennsylvania professor of German literature, ended in divorce.