A screenshot from a conservation video at youtube.com/BaumgartnerRestoration Credit: Courtesy the artist

Julian Baumgartner may be the sole owner of Chicago’s oldest conservation studio, but that doesn’t keep him from being simultaneously the master of old masters and social media.

He’s a man with a fan base in the millions—many of whom claim they know or care nothing about art but are faithful viewers of his videos. In a sign of success (like all good YouTubers), he has attracted memes and merch. 

Even a video of him giving a tour of his studio had viewers swooning—and warning him that the pink baby sculpture a client abandoned with him was a cursed relic.

Baumgartner’s YouTube channel has 1.65 million subscribers with total views of greater than 125 million. His most popular video has 6.2 million views. He started the channel five years ago and as of mid-February has posted 109 videos. Those who join his Patreon get early access to videos that are free from ads or sponsor announcements, including his entire back catalog. He also offers those exclusive fans behind-the-scenes videos, additional content, Q&A opportunities, and merchandise discounts. 

Merchandise? Yes, with sayings that make sense only to his fans (e.g. “When I say washi, you say Kozo”), the YouTube channel is armed with a store selling sweatshirts, aprons, T-shirts, and tote bags.

What does he do to earn so many fans?

He restores art. Lots of art. It’s a family tradition.

YouTube video
A trailer for Baumgartner’s popular YouTube channel

His father, R. Agass Baumgartner (whom he’s been known to throw under the bus along with other conservators whose work he sometimes deems “inappropriate”), founded the original studio in 1978. The father, who was born in Switzerland, studied at the Luzern Academy of Art and the École des Beaux-arts in France, where he specialized in 16th-through 19th- century easel painting restoration and conservation. 

Julian, who studied painting and printmaking at SUNY-Purchase College, began his apprenticeship in conservation in 2000. He worked side by side with his father until R. Agass passed away in 2011. Julian then took over the business.

In 2020, he restored an old warehouse space (it used to be the home to organ and egg timer manufacturers, albeit not at the same time) so that he now has 20,000 square feet and can work on much larger pieces of art. Despite the space, Baumgartner keeps the business small—small enough so that clients know that their work will be touched by only one set of hands.

His fans have come to know certain things about him—such as “staples” is a dirty word. Indeed, when Baumgartner did use staples once, memes sprouted across the Web showing his fans’ shock. Also, you can never have too many clamps. Or tables.

Sometimes, his videos don’t even have narration. Fans say they drift off to sleep to his ASMR videos taken while he restores paintings. 

To the fan base that describes themselves as chaotic, Julian Baumgartner is a cool, collected rock star—ever aware of his followers—who is making art restoration accessible to all.