John Cederstrom, Artist, Conservator

Posted: August 28, 1992

John Andrew Cederstrom, 63, of Merion Station, an artist and teacher who began his career as a nature artist and ended it restoring and protecting the works of others, died Tuesday at Hahnemann University Hospital.

"He was an amazing man," said Roslyn Hahn, co-owner of the Hahn Gallery in Chestnut Hill, where Mr. Cederstrom was chief conservator. "He restored paintings, works on paper and he occasionally worked on frames. And he was very aware about art history and about the artists and the art periods of the art he worked on."

He was a quiet, soft-spoken man who never raised his voice and had a reputation as an intellectual with a vivid sense of humor that made his students remember the lessons he taught.

But he got emotional about his work. "I watched him once clean a painting and as the film of dirt disappeared and the colors emerged, he got excited," Hahn said. "He enjoyed that as much as anything he did."

Mr. Cederstrom did not begin his career restoring the colors to other

artists' works. Before he was a teenager he was creating his own.

Albert Cederstrom Jr. said his brother's inspiration had come, unexpectedly, from their father, who was a vice president of Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., and a whiz at adding figures, not drawing them. One night, at a PTA meeting at Narberth Grammar School, he drew a tropical bird on the blackboard to entertain John. Cederstrom said he couldn't recall whether the bird was multicolored or all white. But he remembers that it had "fine feathers" and that his brother "often referred to that as his inspiration to go into art."

He soon began private art lessons with Marjorie Cowan in Narberth, and followed that with studies at Philadelphia College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts from 1948 to 1951.

Mr. Cederstrom seemed to pick up something else from his father's sketch: the nature subjects for the majority of the paintings, watercolors, sketches and silkscreen prints he turned out.

On his canvases he depicted everything from raccoons to crabs to weeds, his brother said. The business cards he handed out at one time bore his sketches of white-footed mice. An etching of a groundhog won first prize at a show of the Philadelphia Sketch Club and an oil painting of a crab won the top prize at the Woodmere Art Gallery.

"He was always interested in animal life," his brother said. "He has drawn dead fish, lobsters, sharks, raccoons and marine life."

His interest in animals was no secret to his neighbors. "Once the secretary at Friends Central sent a letter to 'The Raccoon Man in Narberth' and it was delivered to my brother," Cederstrom said.

Much of his subject matter came from the coast at Gloucester, Mass., where he used to spend summers with his grandparents.

When he was in his 20s, Cederstrom said, he turned a barn on that property into a studio and did much of his work and his teaching there.

Mr. Cederstrom's work is in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Allentown Art Museum and UNICEF, and in other public and private collections. He had many one-man shows and his work was included in many collected exhibits.

Noted as a teacher, Mr. Cederstrom spent from 1951 until 1963 at the Bryn

Mawr Art Center as executive director, children's program director and director of art education. During that time, he also taught at St. Peter's School and Episcopal Academy and was art therapist at Inglis House.

From 1963 until 1981, he was on the art staff at Friends Central in Wynnewood, acting as chairman of the department, art director and teacher of art and art history.

A former pupil, Ruth-Ann Wagner Bown, Class of 1966, said Mr. Cederstrom ''did wonders for his students. . . . He built their self-confidence by teaching them art and by teaching them to express themselves through art."

She said she and other graduates hoped to collect enough money to establish a memorial - a scholarship or a sculpture, for example - at Friends Central to honor him.

Mr. Cederstrom taught at the Philadelphia Art Institute and at Main Line School Night and lectured widely on art history and appreciation.

Since the 1970s, Mr. Cederstrom had concentrated on restoration, working with clients throughout the Philadelphia area.

Among the more than 800 works he restored are some by Winslow Homer and Benton Spruance, a 20th-century Philadelphia painter.

"We represented the Spruance estate," Hahn said, "and at one point the family discovered unstretched canvases in a paper bag in the attic. He cleaned and restored and mounted them and they looked wonderful."

He was a member, director and former vice president of Artists Equity of Philadelphia. He belonged to the American Color Print Society, the Philadelphia Water Color Club and the National Trust for Historical Preservation, and was a director of the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Besides his brother, he is survived by sons, Andrew E., and Jeffrey D., and his mother, Emilie Laessig Cederstrom.

Services will be held at 7 p.m. today at All Saints Episcopal Church, Gypsy Road and Montgomery Avenue, Wynnewood.

Contributions may be made to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 N. Broad St., Philadelphia 19107; to Friends Central School, 1101 City Line Ave., Wynnewood, Pa. 19096; or to the University of the Arts, Broad and Pine Streets, Philadelphia 19146.

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