DOFF Cleaning comes from outside our niche, but has become a valuable too in bronze conservation.
Today, I talk to Brian Crowe of Stonehealth. Brian and I became acquainted when Antique Bronze began to look around for a wider range of conservation tools that could serve us.
Initially, we were a bit wary of air-powered tools. Back in the 1990’s, we had seen the popularity of blasting/peening grip the metal restoration industry, but time after time, we saw war memorials and sculptures which had been cleaned back to bright metal and in so doing leaving a mattish, unmetal-finished surface which resulted in sculptures that looked very different to their previous selves.
Unsure about the results we witnessed, we decided to stick with traditional hand-preparation techniques when dealing with corrosion treatments. Hand-prep techniques had their critics too, but we had more faith in the method particularly as it was so controllable.
To our minds, the oomph that machinery provided seemed to be at the expense of a bronze’s surface.
However, there were certainly times, particularly when we had very large projects, when we felt the need of a power-assisted tool. This was when we came across Brian Crowe, and his DOFF cleaning and JOS/TORC tools. Unlike regular air-abrasion, JOS was something a bit different, firstly it was wet abrasion, rather than dry, and it was designed to clean more softly, be controllable and less aggressive.
Today, you can Listen (or read this transcription) to Brian who tells us in his own words, the history of what and why Brian brought his conservation tools to market.
Lucy: Brian, you and I have worked together for a long time. We’ve bought your products over many years and your wonderful tools. And so I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to chat to you today, not just because you’re such a nice chap, but also because it will be nice to be able to talk about some of the things that you have developed at Stonehealth, which I think are a big contribution to the conservation tools that we have for large objects.
I know that you probably sell mostly to the stone markets, stone conservation and restoration. But, we’re particularly interested in metals and large-scale metals particularly and, actually, we’re quite limited with our tools in this field, for a number of reasons because, obviously, we’re mostly onsite and so that’s why I appreciate the work that you do because it helps my job be a little bit easier very often. I know your background very well, but just for other people LISTENING in (or reading!), just tell us a little bit about how you started the company and your background?
Brian: Okay. Well, thank you for those very nice comments. First of all, Lucy. You made my head feel a bit bigger than it should be.
Lucy: Not so.
Brian: But, going back into the 1980s, I came to a particular point in my career where I’d been working for very large companies and also one or two smaller companies, mainly in the toy and the textile field. And I thought I wanted to do something on my own. I’d made one particular company become a very strong company just through some product developments. So, I decided I’d break out on my own. But, I wasn’t quite sure what market to get into. But I did find that there was a company in Germany that was working with some consolidants for stone, and that became quite interesting and I was talking to English Heritage about that and John Ashurst, in particular, was very interested in what that did.
In the meantime, another company approached me, which said, they had this machine for cleaning stone and it didn’t do any damage. So, I went over to Nuremberg to the stone fair to see what was going on. And I was quite impressed by it. So, I decided to arrange for some of ours in the UK for the system which we called JOS, Yoss, as the Germans pronounce it. So, I set up a demonstration in London, Bristol, Birmingham, and Edinburgh and the results were very startling and it impressed me a lot. But, what we found was that the contractors were saying,
“This will be a new thing. Here today, gone tomorrow. We’ll buy one if we need one.”
But it was the specifiers, the architects, in particular, who were showing some interest.
And I remember one of our first projects was a building called Saint John’s, right opposite Waterloo station. And, obviously, you have the old choo-choo smoke all over the building that’s 100 years old. The architect asked the contractor to carry out some trials, which included the Jos. When he came to look at it, the contractor said, “Well, that one is a bit too slow.” And, “I don’t like that. I don’t like that, but that one I do like.” And he said, “How much slower would it be?” And he said, well it would take another couple of weeks.
And this was quite impressive. The architect said, “I couldn’t care less if it takes another year. This building has been around for a few hundred years. It should be around for a few hundred more just for the sake for you to get off-site.” So, he specified it and, in fact, the job didn’t take any longer than using any other method, but it was done in a very responsible way. And strangely enough, that architect, or coincidently I should say, the architect was also responsible for St James’s Palace. So that was the next project that took place.
Brian: In the meantime, the cathedrals became interested. And so Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury, as well as Westminster Abbey were starting to use it. So, it really did become a big thing. It wasn’t one of those things where it’s here today, gone tomorrow.
Lucy: As the contractor predicted, badly.
Brian: Sure, now I’ve been involved for 33 years, and though it was not really taken that seriously in the beginning, after that first three years when we realized we had some future, we formed Stonehealth Ltd and then started expanding away with this.
But we found a problem with the company that supplied us, and it was at the time when the wall came down in ’89. That’s Germany suffered a bit of a setback and the company that developed the JOS went down, unfortunately. I think it was partly due to a rags to rags in three generations where a grandfather who was a Dr. of chemistry, he started the company. His son took over, who was also very diligent and hardworking and then the grandson took over, and he was really only interested in things which were fast and that was cars, boats, and women.
Lucy: Expensive hobbies.
Brian: Well, it’s not the sort of attitude or type of person you want to run a company. So, suddenly left with being without the supplier of the most important project or the product that we had.
Lucy: Huge setback.
Brian: It was a big setback and very concerning, but one or two other companies in Germany that were supplying that particular company, approached us direct and we decided also to get some local supply. And so we got it up and going. Before this happened, the original JOS nozzle did have a problem of, unfortunately, wearing out pretty quickly. And it was quite an expensive item. So, together with the Germans, developed a way of making it modular so it could be…the wearing parts could be replaced, which made it a lot more economical and that’s where we then called it the TORC.
Lucy: Oh, I see.
Brian: So, that was a big step forward. The first time the TORC was being used was on the British Museum around the old library when it was covered over. And the contractors who were using it said,
“We’re finding that this is using less material and it’s a gentler clean, and it’s working quicker.”
So that was a big improvement over the JOS nozzle and so that was a big step forward.
In the meantime, people were finding problems in removing paints. Now, sometimes the Jos and then the TORC would remove paints such as limewash and also carbon, of course, but it wouldn’t remove the more modern paints, which were flexible. So, in talking with a friend, who I met through the business, a Dutch person, he said, “Brian, if we can get temperatures up to 30 degrees, I’m sure that’s going to destroy a lot of paints. So, the next thing is we’re looking at a system, which was developed for cleaning industrial machines, etc., and it was working at 150 degrees.” And we said to them, “Will it remove paint?” “Don’t know. Let us give it a try.” And it did. Paint just sort of came off very quickly…..in a very impressive way. So, we worked with that company for a bit until they were taken over. Then they went a different way. In the meantime, we developed the systems ourselves and we manufacture those now totally here in the UK. So, the TORC and DOFF cleaning, between the two of them, will remove most unwanted matter. I’d say 90% either one after the other or all together. And the results are good without doing damage.
Lucy: I’ve got to say, one of the things we really like for the TORC or is it Jos/ TORC…I’m probably pronouncing it wrong “Jos.” It should be YOSS…
Brian: It’s okay. Really, you’re English.
Lucy: One of the things we’ve found is that we use it quite often on removing limescale on fountain bronze because bronzes in fountains, although they look magnificent with the waters cascading over them, it’s often when the water supply is turned off and on periodically, that you get a lot of limescale developing and hardening because what happens is it starts to bake in the sun.
And although the limescale deposit isn’t always reacting necessarily with the bronze, it’s relatively inert, it does really claw into the cast surface of the sculpture. And so Gosh, it’s hard to get off and we don’t want to use any chemicals because…particularly acidic chemicals for limescale because if it goes through that limescale layer and it gets to the patina underneath, it will strip that patina. Actually, we’ve found it really, really good for being able to, in quite a controlled way, thin out those limescale layers because, obviously, you’re using quite similar aggregates, aren’t you?
Brian: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Lucy: So…. I know that…the aggregates differs depending on if you want it coarser or thinner…finer. But we’ve had quite a lot of success with that. It’s useful for corrosion removal as well, but certainly, limescales are really one of those ones that very few tools will deal with very well. There’s all sorts of difficulties with limescale.
Brian: Yes, I can understan that. And I mean, obviously, in hard water areas, that’s likely to build up even quicker and as you say, it calcifies. And that becomes really hard. And what’s nice about the TORC is that it buffs away. It’s like wearing it away in a controlled way unlike grit blasting where the grit goes directly at the surface in a quite an aggressive way, this rotates on the surface and it buffs it away. And you can remove those calcium deposits and come down to, what I understand you want, is the bronze to look like a dirty penny and to leave that patinary in place.
Lucy: Well, it certainly depends on what the original finish was. Quite often, fountain statuary is quite diverse in its intentional finish or in the finish that has adapted. It’s just that lovely aspect of having the control there. To be able to stop and investigate, you know, where are we? What have we got here? Is this, this point we want to stop? Whereas, obviously, if you have another tool which just sweeps it all away, you haven’t got that thinking and transition period, really.
Brian: Yes. What’s the important thing is, as you say, you’re able to take away what you want to take away and leave what you want to remain or retain. I remember sort of layers and layers of old paints. And it was like taking one layer off and then the next layer off. And it was like steps. You could see the history of this particular piece of stone and what paints had been put on it over a period of time. And that just shows what sort of control you’ve got. And I…
Lucy: Well, that’s… one of those kind of things that a conservator dreams of, you know, to be able to have ultimate control.
but whilst we may be able to provide good systems and products, it very much comes down to the person behind that machine
or that product who applies it. You know…
Brian: You know, you can give a good car to a good driver and they’ll drive even better. But, if an idiot is behind the wheel, a good car goes up and down curbs and knocks down lampposts, etc., you can’t blame the manufacturer. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on the training of operatives. I know it applies more to stone and masonry, in general but that’s the reason why we’ve now adopted this system of having an approval system with the rosette, which does at least give specifiers some form of assurance that, at least, hopefully, they will get a better job done.
Lucy: Well, absolutely, and I think the thing is that anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that that’s the case with all treatments, especially on historic objects. We’ve learned that from the past, haven’t we, with all the disasters that have happened? If you have somebody with experience and knowledge, then they aren’t going to be gung-ho with a technique that they’re not familiar with. It’s not within their scope – which is not the kind of ethics and principles that we try to uphold in conservation, obviously.
But I don’t think you can level that criticism just at, you know, your own tool. I think damage can be done by … well, lemon juice can damage bronze very severely. Coca-Cola and, I mean, no one thinks to be trained in drinking Coca-Cola, but the damage I’ve seen done by it is quite extensive. So, yeah.
Brian: Just shows how carefully one has to be.
Lucy: Absolutely. But tell us a little bit about the business model, Brian, because I’m quite interested in conservation companies. And I know that yours is…it’s, I think, a company that thinks quite a lot about the way it operates not only with its staff but generally. It’s quite an ethical company. And I kind of like that because I remember, a long time ago, somebody saying to me, “Oh, don’t you think there’s a kind of disconnect between making a living and also being an ethical company?” And I don’t agree with that, and I argued the case, but let’s hear what you say.
Brian: Well, good for you in arguing that because I mean there are a lot of people that just think that a company is there to make money and to do so at any cost. No, I’ve always found, from experience, that if you look after a customer well, they become a loyal customer. And sometimes even if you’ve got a discontented customer, if you put them right…tell them what’s wrong, they become an even much more loyal customer. And you used that word, “ethical,” and that’s a very important matter to us because we try to take a responsible way with, not only with the commercial side of the business but also the responsibility for making sure that people do the job properly.
I’ve had people who have said to me, “Can I buy so and so,” and then I found out what it’s for and I’ve said, “No, it’s not appropriate for that.” And they say, “We’ll still buy it.” And I say, “Well, no, I’m not prepared to sell it to you on that basis.” And so, there are people who would say, “Well, you know, you’ve sold it, so what does it matter?” And I remember one of the companies who was making some chemicals for us in Holland was taken over and the person who was running the business, he showed us how certain things worked and one of them didn’t go that well. He said, “Well, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’ve sold it.” I was disgusted with that sort of approach because, you know, you want to build up a good reputation, not only with your customers but with your staff as well.
And I always remember, back in my days with textiles, one of our large customers in the UK. This was an Italian company, but one of the large customers in the UK was John Lewis. And going to their offices, there was a notice up to say that, “Sir, we regard our suppliers as important to us as our customers. So, if there’s anything wrong, please let us know.” And I think that’s quite a challenging thing to put over to people because there are times, as I say, “When you don’t sell something, you don’t want to sell it to them because it’s not appropriate.” But they come back because they know you’re taking a responsible approach. And if you do say that is the product for doing something, then they’re more likely to listen to you rather than being sold to. That’s something that I’ve always felt. As a company, we prefer people to buy from us, rather than us selling to them.
Lucy: That’s definitely a very personal relationship you’re building then because they’re able to trust you. I think that, even though, in your case particularly, it’s being done for the best intentions, I also think it’s a good business strategy anyway.
If people can rely on you, they’re going to feel that you’re not going to lead them in the wrong direction.
And in the long run, that’s got to be better for them as them using the products. How does it benefit anybody to have that short-term thinking? I can’t see it myself.
Brian: Well, I think, you know, there’s been situations and examples of companies that have actually taken that more aggressive approach and they haven’t lasted that long.
Lucy: Yeah, for sure. So, you’ve also diversified though, haven’t you, because you have many products as well. I’m always interested to have a look at new products coming out in the market, and you’ve got quite a range now.
Brian: Sure. In fact, as I said earlier, 90% of the unwanted matter can be removed either with the JOS or by DOFF cleaning, either separately, or together. And there’s another 10% where one does need to revert to other methods such as chemicals. Again, we try to take the ethical, responsible, approach in products which are safe for the environment, the person, and anything else that…and the building itself.
So, you don’t want to do any harm. So, we try to do that. We’ve got a company, a local company in Holland, that produces some very good conservation tools under our own specification. They seem to work very well such as for the removal, in your case on metals, to get rid of the oxidation and on bronze, etc., and also moulds as well. Also salt is a big problem so we have poultices for poulticing out salts.
Lucy: Absolutely. We do like the Cuprid which, I know, is the poultice that we use to remove the copper staining that you get, particularly on plinths. And, obviously, on statuary that isn’t being maintained, which always should be, but often isn’t. And so then, not only is the statue degrading obviously, but the impact on the plinth or the surrounding stone on a building is incredibly negative visibly anyway.
Brian: Particularly when it’s just been cleaned. If you’ve got some carbon or some other soiling, and you remove that, let’s say on Portland stone, and all of a sudden everything looks green then…
Lucy: Everyone is shocked.
Brian: …And then even with the Cuprid, you know, you may need to use two or three different applications because sometimes that gets way down into the surface.
Lucy: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But there’s no magic bullet with anything, is there?
Lucy: As far as I’ve come across, you can’t treat everything in one hit?
Brian: No. And it’s all trial and error. You know, we say to people, “You know, it may be the answer to your question, but try a small area in an inconspicuous place to see if you get the results you need before going on to doing something which is staring you in the face.”
Lucy: So, you must be doing quite a lot of development work at Stonehealth because…I mean, we’ve all got to eat, so we’ve always got to deal with current projects that are on the docket. But there also seems to be quite a lot of forward-thinking in what you’re doing?
Brian: I think that’s necessary.
I always think that a company needs to move forward in order to stand still.
That sounds a bit funny but there’s always a natural wastage and a moving on. You know, customers come and go, and you need to find new customers and new products as well to actually just standstill.
Brian: So, yes we do both on the mechanical side. I mean, we’ve got an interesting new development going on at this moment. It’s being held up by some sort of technical hitch, but we had hoped to launch it back in July, but it probably won’t come out till next year now because we do want to make absolutely sure that it is going to work properly and reliably before it’s put on the market.
Lucy: How interesting.
Brian: …Because we don’t want people to feel let down.
Lucy: Well, no. I mean, I suppose though there’ll be some beta testing, first, I would imagine, getting feedback from people who…without marketing it properly?
Lucy: You know, with that kind of thing. I think that’s always great advice. I always try to…even though it’s always a hard thing to ask, “what did you find wrong with it?”
Lucy: Sometimes the answers are not as you’d like them to be, but on the other hand, if you just, you know, swallow the pill, you can often actually advance quite a lot from that.
Brian: I agree.
Lucy: Yes. Well, Brian, it’s been lovely talking to you. I know that we use the DOFF nearly every day with our treatments. A lot of our bronze work, it’s the initial stage nearly always, particularly for restoration projects. And our DOFF cleaning machine has been a real workhorse. It really does a lot of hours so, you know, it’s sort of a friend – definitely one of the team.
Brian: That’s great, Lucy.
Lucy: So, you know, we’ve been really pleased with it, but thank you for taking the trouble. I should say that Brian has been a very good sport because he has had to record this interview a second time owing to my inability to manage to capture it the first time. I had a tech gremlin interfere with the interview, so I thank you in particular, Brian, for having the patience to do it again.
Brian: My pleasure. We got there in the end, Lucy. That was nice.
Lucy: We did.
Find out more about the tools at Stonehealth – take a look at their stunning website – Stonehealth
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Restoration of the masterful statue of Sigmund Freud by Croatian Sculptor, Oscar Nemon, was recently undertaken by Antique Bronze.
The Tavistock Clinic have a fascinating art collection which this monument is a part of. In Mind, The Tavistock and Portman Foundation staff magazine, wrote a feature about the works, text reproduced here:
Freud Gets A Makeover
Outdoor statues in London have a tough time of it: the vicissitudes of the weather, the pollution, the pigeons… So it is no surprise that the bronze sculpture of Freud outside the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which was partly responsible for introducing Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to British medicine, is receiving much-needed restoration work.
Led by Lucy Branch, Senior conservator at Antique Bronze, the statue restoration team started work on Monday 5 July by giving the sculpture and its plinth a steam clean. Then they began the careful restoration work by hand, using fine copper brushes and pumice powder to remove corrosion. As Lucy, who has a degree in fine art, did a three year apprenticeship and a masters in post at the V&A, explained: “Corrosion forms unevenly in patterns so they need to be blended out by hand – you want the sculpture to be seen as the artist intended and not have your eye drawn to areas of degradation.”
The statue restoration is made more difficult by the hot weather. With the full sun on the sculpture it gets very hot causing the cleaning materials to melt and evaporate. The public have also been very interested in what is going on and Lucy says:
“It is important to be able to engage with people, while getting on with the work, but we have had quite a few rude comments.”
The sculpture is by the Croatian artist, Oscar Nemon, who grew up in Osijek on the borders of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He studied in Vienna in the 1920s, which is where he first developed an interest in the work of Freud. He then moved to Brussels, becoming a well-known portrait sculptor. In 1931 he received the commission to sculpt Freud for his 75th birthday. Freud was a little uncertain, but agreed to let Nemon sketch him in brief sessions between one patient and the next.
Overnight Nemon produced a preliminary clay and that won Freud over. Nemon continued to work for several years visiting Freud whenever he passed through Vienna on his way to Osijek and then finally in London in 1938, after the political situation had led both men to leave mainland Europe.
It is these London sittings that led to the final harsher, more abstract sculpture in terracotta which were used for the bronze sculpture that now resides outside the Tavistock Centre.
On seeing the sculpture Freud commented in his diary:
“The head, which the gaunt, goatee-bearded artist has fashioned from the dirt — like the good Lord — is very good and an astonishingly life-like impression of me.”
Lucy Branch is similarly appreciative of the work saying: “When you get close to the sculpture it is really beautiful, with clearly defined tool marks on the surface. Freud is seated in a very dominant pose, making this a powerful sculptural figure, but also a fine representation of a man drawn from life.”
The restoration of the statue will be completed with more colouring work. Then layers of protective coating will be added, to make the statue as stable as an outdoor statue can be.
Find the whole article here: Freud Gets A Makeover
If you’d like to know more about restoration work on bronze, read a case study on our blog, or if you want to be taught about the principles of bronze restoration by us, sign-up for our training course, coming in 2019
The Antique Bronze team recently undertook monument restoration work on The Aldersgate Flame. This is a special bronze located outside the entrance to the Museum of London. It is reputed to be the approximate location of John Wesley’s evangelical conversion in 1738. The English cleric and theologian went on to be one of the founding fathers of Methodism. He inspired its followers to right wrongs of the day, particularly with regard to social issues, such as prison reform and the abolition of slavery.
The mighty sculptural scroll features text from Wesley’s journal describing his conversion experience. Over time, the environment had done its worst and the monument’s surface had corroded quite comprehensively. Only small patches of patina were left intact.
In a situation like this monument restoration is the only way to proceed.
As the design of the sculpture centres around its text, visitors looked confused when guided there. They could no longer understand the statement that was intended to engage the public or appreciate its value because of the poor legibility and disfiguration of the surface. This is where champion of the monument, Alison Gowman, came to its rescue. She found funds to restore the monument.
Monument Restoration and Conservation Ethics
When a bronze surface is highly disfigured, a conservator has very few options open to them. Repatination involves the recolouring of a bronze’s surface by hand. The method employs almost identical methods to how a foundry would have finished the bronze when it was first made. This was a method that in previous eras was used so often that it was barely questioned. Today, we try to avoid treatments that do away with the passage of time in order to balance the original finish with acknowledgement of the object’s history.
Repatination, though, should make conservators pause. It goes against several principles that we try to uphold such as the desirability of techniques to be reversible and minimal intervention whenever possible.
Though technology has stormed ahead in the last decade, the repertoire of restoration technique suitable for large bronzes remains in the dark ages. Monuments which are hammered with rain, baked in the full sun and blown about by fierce urban winds often need repatination work in order to restore them to usefulness. So in this particular case, legibility trumps reversibility.
We were fortunate to have some segments of patina that were not ruined. This meant we were able to coax the new colour into existence and blend it with the segments that were already intact.
All Is Well Now
All is well now for The Aldersgate Flame and it is being enjoyed again by its visitors. Recently, Wesley Day was celebrated and the monument received a great deal of praise. Repatination should not necessarily be a technique conservators are fearful of using. Considered carefully and used sparingly, it continues to be a necessary technique in the preservation of outdoor sculpture.
Galvanic Corrosion is a type of corrosion that can happen to bronze sculptures that are electroplated. This was a method developed in the 19th century where a cheaper metal could be used to make up the form of a sculpture. A thin layer of brass or bronze would be added to give the aesthetic of a traditionally made item.
Galvanic corrosion occurs when the upper layer of the statue is nobler than the metal in the underlayer. If the upper layer comes under attack by something corrosive, or is porous, the less noble metal will begin to corrode preferentially.
In this situation, the bronze or brass provides a large cathodic area. Any small areas where the surface is compromised enables the anodic half-reaction to occur resulting in a large pit.
If the corrosion occurs beneath the bronze or brass surface, then the expansion of the corrosion products lifts the upper layer and detach it.
Recently we had a sculpture come in with just this issue. The underlying alloy was an iron-mixture plated with brass. When something corrosive splashed across it, the sculpture’s brass skin began to corrode in tiny areas. Once the upper layer was compromised, it began to rust below the surface. Soon the rust pushed through until there was a raised corrosion product in place. These small acne-like spots were spread all over the surface making the beautiful form of the sculpture highly disfigured.
If you’d like to learn more about corrosion and principles of bronze conservation, take a look at our online course, Bronze Behaving Badly.
Another good resource is Lyndsie Selwyn’s Book, Metals and Corrrosion
Founding Director Antique Bronze Ltd
John Branch, founding Director of Antique Bronze Ltd, died on 22nd December 2016 aged 86.
As a very young child, he showed an aptitude for gymnastics, a talent for art and a gift for entrepreneurship. However, it was during his national service that all these talents matured. The army encouraged and trained him in gymnastics, long-jump, boxing and sprinting. Achieving officer status as a PTI, he qualified for the Olympics in three disciplines while running an unofficial tailoring business for the soldiers.
It was while stationed in Cairo that John Branch first considered a career in restoration. Target practice on the Great Sphinx of Giza and the pyramids was a routine way to pass the time for the troops in 1948. The first time he witnessed this activity, he said,
He felt as if something close to murder was taking place.
He had no real understanding of their meaning or significance at the time, but he felt that this kind of vandalism was deeply wrong. This experience paved the way for a career as a carer of objects.
Upon returning to the UK, he enrolled in St Martin’s School of Art to study sculpture and afterwards worked for several noteworthy foundries including Morris Singers.
Though Antique Bronze wasn’t his only business, it was the one that maintained his interest life-long. Setting it up in 1955, John Branch carved out a career focusing on restoration of large-scale sculpture and historic buildings standing out among other restorers with his one-handed handstands on top of many of London’s best-known monuments. In particular, he became well-known by contemporary artists for his skills in patination.
Barbara Hepworth was a friend, and he went on to work on many other of our best-known artworks including those by Henry Moore’s, Frank Dobson, and a list of monuments including Nelson’s Column, The Albert Memorial, Cleopatras Needle, Eros among many others. He advised on The Preservation of Venice Project and was invited to move to New York for two years to consult on works to The Statue of Liberty.
Historic buildings such as County Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Senate House – The University of London Headquarters were also places where he invested much of his restoration talent. The complexity of some of the items he restored was unimaginable, and this is where his real gift was unsurpassed.
He trained and mentored many other craftsmen during his lifetime. Many were so devoted to him that they worked with him for the duration of their lives and left their sons to continue within the company. His love of art, breadth of restoration knowledge and generosity were so inspiring that most who met him were in awe of all he could do.
Caring for bronze sculpture in your home is much easier than those in your garden. Indoor bronzes have an easy time of it compared to their large companions outdoors. They are sheltered from the urban air and ever-changing weather, but their environment still has an impact on them and if you want to keep your small bronzes as stable as possible then consider these ten tips.
1: Dust Regularly – Don’t be frightened to touch a bronze just because it’s an artwork. If you use a dry micro-fibre cloth or a soft brush, you’ll be doing a lot of good rather than harm. Caring for bronze involves removing dirt and grime. This prevents reactions between the pollutants in dust and the metal’s surface. We all hate more housework, but preventing corrosion is always better than curing it.
2: At least once a year, give the statue a thorough clean. Use white spirit to remove dirt and grime – I use a cotton rag to apply it. Then put a protective coating in place – this is one of the best ways of protecting a bronze’s surface. Outdoor pollutants from traffic do infiltrate buildings. Over time, they will corrode your bronzes (Grontoft et al, 2016). Rub on microcrystalline wax and burnish with a bristle brush or cotton rag as you might your shoes. It will improve the bronze’s lustre and retard surface change.
3: Internal materials like wooden floorboards and furniture emit acidic gases such as acetic or formic acid. These will damage your bronzes particularly if airflow is static and if the temperature of a room is likely to fluctuate widely. To care for your bronze sculpture, consider where you locate your small bronzes. Try not to display them in sealed cabinets made from materials containing hard and soft woods or plywood (Gibson, 2010)
Care For Bronze Statues by Not Touching Them
4: Avoid handling your bronzes. If possible, lift your bronzes with a clean cloth rather than touch them directly. Sweat from the hands is acidic and will corrode metal. Wax is only a thin barrier layer.
5: If you are storing a small bronze rather than displaying it. Ensure that the packaging materials are suitable. Do not wrap bronzes directly in bubble wrap or plastic. Houses tend to have poor humidity controls and though it might surprise you – bronzes do hold water. When they heat up that water will evaporate and if you’ve trapped it in plastic – you’ll get corrosion activity beneath the plastic.
6: If you accidentally spill red wine, tea, coke or even water on your bronze – then run for a cloth! Just because it’s not a textile that stains – don’t assume that the liquid won’t do any harm. If you whip it off quickly, then harm is averted. If you leave it to dry out, the metal is likely to etch in the perfect shape of the splash or spill. A little warm water on a clean cloth as dry as possible will enable you to remove the liquid and save your bronze surface. Don’t forget to dry your bronze after you’ve washed it though – that’s very important.
7: Admire your bronze often – don’t ignore it. If you keep an eye on your sculpture, you will notice if there is any change occurring. If rapid change occurs within a short period, then the chances are it is being exposed to something. Be mindful, and you could prevent a bigger conservation problem.
8: Think about where you locate your bronze. If a statue is in a busy area of the house, it might get knocked, and scuffed. Bronze looks tough, but often small bronzes have delicate sculptural detail, and one bang can see sections break off or snap. Dents are very hard to remove successfully. Drafts also carry outdoor pollutants inside and humidity will peak and trough more which won’t do your bronzes any good.
9: If you want to give your bronze the Rolls Royce treatment then a high-spec display case made with materials that do not emit gases will go a long way. Though undoubtedly an expense, it has been shown that cases with robust seals prevent traffic pollution getting in, provides extra security if you are burgled, prevents household damage like spills and knocks. A low and stable relative humidity under 40% is ideal. It’s also wise to add some activated carbon to the base of the case to absorb any stray pollutants.
10: If you notice a greenish, powdery deposit on your bronze which is easily brushed away, but returns quickly – get it to a conservator ASAP! This deposit is a sign of active corrosion and needs quick, skilled treatment to prevent metal loss.
If you would like help or advice on caring for your bronze statues, do give Antique Bronze Ltd a call on 0208 340 0931 or take a look at our small bronze restoration page
Terje Grontoft, David Thickett, Paul Lankester, Stephen Hackney, Joyce H. Townsend, Kristin Ramsholt & Monica Garrido. “Assessment of Indoor Air Quality and the Risk of Damage to Cultural Heritage Objects using MEMORI dosimetry” Studies in Conservation 61:sup 1, 70-82. Routledge & IIC 2016 Link Here
Gibson, L.T. (2010) Acetic and formic acids emitted from wood samples and their effect on selected materials in museum environments. Corrosion Science, 52 (1). pp. 172-178. ISSN 0010-938X
Read about the surprising things that have happened to one of our Directors, Lucy Branch, in Diary of a Conservator published in World of Interiors August 2015. Beautiful illustration by Hannah Waldron.
Restoration Comedy by Lucy Branch, Published by World of Interiors, August 2015
You need a sense of humour to do my job. As a conservator of public art, I have the privilege of helping statues and monuments survive into the future. What could be so ridiculous about such a seemingly serious job? The objects I work on are high-profile and cannot be removed to the private enclave of a conservation studio. My studio is in the public domain and it’s very hard to control or predict that environment. What this means is that my working day might involve being up to my elbows in water while treating a sculpture in the Beatty and Jellicoe fountains in Trafalgar Square, or courted by a thousand tourists who would like their photos taken with the restorer at The Tower of London, or even finding a news crew up my ladder, while working on Shakespeare in Leicester Square, who wanted to know my opinion on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. One morning, I went to work on Eros to find a man dressed up as a dog had got there first.
Just before the most recent Royal Wedding, I worked on the gargantuan bronze elements of The Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace. This project was a joy and not just because we were required to down tools and watch the Changing of the Guard each day. The project began weeks before we started on site by looking at the history of the object. This aspect of the work involves dedicated research from published and unpublished documents and photographs. The aim is to try to ensure we know as much about how the object and what how it originally looked as possible.
Once the scaffold went up, it was time to meet the magnificent allegorical sculptures in person and get to grips with establishing their true condition. This might seem belated, but when tendering we don’t have the luxury of a scaffold so it is experience and a good pair of binoculars which are relied upon to anticipate what work will need to be done. Up close, it was evident that their surfaces had been coated comprehensively in a thick-pigmented wax containing a lot of lamp-black probably to hide the extensive disfiguring corrosion that was rampant below it. There was very little of the original patina to be found. Samples were taken for analysis, and we compared what we found from the physical evidence with what we found in the historic record.
It was quite something to stand next to those giant bronzes. They are truly otherworldly and above the pettiness of humans. They represent noble themes: peace, progress, agriculture and manufacture and with one hand upon the shoulder of Manufacture, I was a little awed at the extent of work that needed to be done so that they might be ready in time for their role on the world stage.
Before the physical work began, an accurate methodology and plan was devised. Due consideration was given to how far to intervene and what implications to the object certain treatments might have. This ethics stage of our work has come about through the damage done to historic objects, particularly between the 1930’s and 1950’s, in the name of restoration – the tragedy of the Elgin marbles must never be repeated. Only then did the craft aspect of the work begin. Failed wax layers were removed by steam and soap, corrosion layers thinned and treated, re-patination of the bronze where the original patina had been lost and copious layers of hot wax applied to protect the surface for the future.
I’d like to say my lasting memory of the project was seeing how wonderful the statues looked when the euphoric throng of people engulfed the monument on the big day, but actually being almost arrested for trying to blow up Buckingham Palace when one of our hired generator’s exploded will probably never be forgotten.
A classic myth meets contemporary times in this adventure series about
art, alchemy and the world’s oldest secret society.
Penned by non-other than our own Director, Lucy Branch, the third novel in The Gold Gift Series was released at the end of September. Lucy Branch’s fiction has been featured on Radio 4, Timeout London and The BBC World Service. She is an expert in the conservation of public sculpture and has worked on some of the UK’s highest profile projects including Nelson’s Column, Eros and Cleopatra’s Needle. Her knowledge and passion for the art world is poured into her fiction which she weaves together with myth, conspiracy theory and fantasy.
What people have said about it…
“If you like a conspiracy theory that walks the line between myth and science, you’ll love A Rarer Gift Than Gold.”
“A series about the dark side of the art world by a real expert in the art world.”
“These novels will take everything you think you know about alchemy and turns it on its head.”
“What’s not to like – rogue artists, The Illuminati and BIG sculptures”
Find out more about the novels…
Abigail Argent stands out: some admire her lean figure and beautiful dark eyes, others notice that she always wears gloves and shudder when they know why. The ones that know her best notice her ability with metal.
She has a gift for seeing the beauty in a plain piece of metal and being able to draw it out. With a background in chemistry, Abigail’s knowledge of her craft is academic as well as practical, which is how she makes a chance discovery of a link between her own craft and that of her favourite childhood myth: the ancient art of alchemy.
But danger is lurking where the worlds of art and myth collide.
Abigail piques the interest of one of the world’s oldest secret societies, and she is forced to draw on all her practical knowhow to keep herself alive.
But, what does she discover about herself from The Golden Illuminati?
The Golden Illuminati are biding their time, but they have plans for Abigail Argent.
Handsome architect, Robert Fitzpatrick is one of their members. When he offers Abigail help, she’s suspicious. But Abigail is struggling to reconnect with her elusive gift, and Robert offers her the only thing that could persuade her to give him a chance.
Characters old and new come together to help Abigail and protect her from the most formidable secret society in history, but The Golden Illuminati aren’t her only problem.
With a new threat hanging over her, Abigail tries to focus on deepening her strange relationship with metal, whilst bonds with others begin to spin out of control.
Can Abigail avoid the clutches of The Golden Illuminati and master her gift?
Francesca Milliardo sees something she wasn’t meant to see.
Her dreams of making a big splash as a contemporary artist are on the line if she’s read the situation wrong.
Worst still, her father seems to be involved.
As Francesca searches for truth, her persistent migraines are beginning to run riot. Some of her symptoms are morphing and she’s starting to wonder if there’s more to the pain than a pill can cure.
Her father’s handsome assistant is a welcome distraction from the confusion of her life, but can he save her from the dangers that lurk? Or, could he, too, be part of them?
Francesca doesn’t know whom to trust or what to do.
It’s time for her to make some hard choices: believe in the people she loves or bet her beloved career on a mystery that’s rooted in myth.
And if you’d like your copy signed by the author, JUST ASK!
“For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost” Benjamin Franklin
London is not short of dramatic horse sculpture. From the rearing fury of Piccadilly’s Horses of Helios Fountain, to the tenacious bravery of Boadicea’s horses which pull her chariot, but Althea Wynne’s magnificent trio at Minster must be acknowledged as among the best of the best.
Althea created these site specific sculptures for Minster Court when it was built in the early 1990’s. A love of horses and an ability to translate their innate beauty in bronze made her the perfect choice for this commission. As a nod to the financial district they belong to, they are affectionately known as Sterling, Dollar and Yen.
Despite the January frost, our team at Antique Bronze, began work on the restoration of bronze statues by Althea Wynne: the spirited trio of horse sculptures in Minster Court, City of London. The aim of the works was to prevent the sentiment of Benjamin Franklin’s prophecy from coming true by intervening before all of the original patina, on these exceptional sculptures, had been lost entirely.
Conservation Work Was Necessary To Halt The Loss of Original Patina
Our knowledge and expertise in the area of bronze statue restoration made us a great fit for this project. We have worked with many artists to ensure their works survive long into the future including some of the Greats like Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Wendy Taylor.
As well as liaising with the owner of a bronze, the preliminary stages of any bronze statue restoration should always involve contacting the artist and consulting with them. Sadly, in this case, this wasn’t possible as Althea Wynne died tragically in a car accident with her husband in 2012 while working on another equestrian commission for Windsor Great Park.
The project started out with conserving what patina we could and then progressed to treating areas of disfiguring corrosion. We were able to blend out areas where weathering had caused unsightly marks to form on the surface. Repatination work was necessary in areas where the original patina had failed and we used the surviving patina to match the colour as closely as possible.
Bronze Statue Restoration Often Involves The Treatment of Corrosion
The final stage of the works involved the application of a protective coating applied hot. This not only protects the surface of the bronze but also gave the statues a lustrous surface.
If you would like to learn more about bronze, consider joining our course, Bronze Behaving Badly, Principles of Bronze Conservation.
Published in the Building Conservation Directory, this article by Lucy Branch discusses the problems of vandalism of public sculpture.
Follow the link to read about statue repair in the public domain.
CRIPPS BUILDINGS, ST JOHN’S COLLEGE
ARCHITECTURAL RESTORATION OF BRONZE WINDOWS
Antique Bronze Ltd have secured a £600,000 contract for the restoration of bronze windows on four blocks of the Cripps buildings at St John’s College, Cambridge.
The Cripps buildings, which are student accommodation, have a Grade II listed exterior and the bronze windows were highly disfigured by bright green corrosion. This corrosion had occurred through weathering over time. Much of the original patina had failed entirely but fortunately there was enough of the original finish remaining internally to be able to be sure of their intended aesthetic.
Several teams were involved in bringing this project to fruition on time and within budget. Preparation works to the bronze were undertaken by hand. Although a machine abrasion technique would have been faster, we decided to remove the corrosion deposits by hand which enabled the conservators to make subtle adjustments to the amount of corrosion being removed so that as little of the original surface of the windows was disturbed as possible.
Ultimately, this is a win-win situation – it is better conservation and results in a better finish. When bronze is stripped bright, its aged appeal is lost. A building built in the 1960s, as this was, shouldn’t look like it has just come out of the fabricator’s workshop.
The next stage was repatination. This involves the colouring of the Bronze which is a traditional technique which hasn’t altered in several hundred years. For this project, we mixed a bespoke patina recipe in order to reflect the evidence of the original colour we found on the windows. Finally, the windows were protected with several coats of Renaissance Micro-Crystalline wax, which is one of our preferred products.