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Subject: Stone sculpture

Stone sculpture

From: Barbara Appelbaum <aandh>
Date: Monday, September 21, 1998
Ebenezer Nsiah Kotei <kotei [at] udel__edu> writes

>I need to work on a 60 years old outdoor limestone sculpture,
>approx. 12 ft. tall. The surface is badly pitted and worn, with some
>spalling occurring. In fact, huge sections of clothing are also
>missing. It is stained with a black stain which I am told is the
>result of burning car tire on the head of the statue during
>Halloween. Due to acid rain deterioration details of human facial
>features are such as noses and ears are flattened, in some cases they
>look like they never existed though an earlier photograph (50 years
>earlier) shows them clear and sharp.
>The clients want some of the features mildly restored. They also
>want the surface sealed for protection against the elements.
>What is the latest on the issue of sealing stone sculpture? Do we
>want to leave them alone so they can breathe or do we want to
>prevent them being reduced to lumps of stone with no features? What
>is being used to seal tones these days?
>What would you use to accentuate the features without resorting to
>carving them?"

As some of you may know, I am working on a book manuscript on
conservation treatment methodology.  Much of my effort has gone into
describing the kinds of issues that go into treatment decisions
other than the technical ones, so I am taking on the above query in
the hope of, rather than castigating the author of it, bringing up
some interesting questions.  I think it illuminates some interesting
issues, starting with his premise that he "needs" to work on the
sculpture.  I believe that there is always some question about what
it means when we say that an object "needs" treatment, but there is
an other group of issues when someone says that they have to do the
job.  Both statements needs to be supported with some kind of
statement of fact.  I hope by now the author of the query has
received privately some replies that suggest that he should not be
doing a job if, as evidenced by his questions, he knows so little
about the subject of outdoor sculpture, but for complex and unusual
jobs, there is often a similar question about how far a
conservator's work should range into the unknown. I personally treat
many strange objects for which I make up treatments as I go along,
and the question often comes up.

Again, I hope some private replies on the subject were sent, but the
question of how to restore something "mildly", that is, presumably
not to attempt to duplicate the original state but to set the clock
back a bit, is another difficult one.  My experience is that it is
harder to do a half job than a whole one, since at least when you
try to duplicate an original state, you have something to aim for.
It is also possible that this object is approaching a point of no
return.  It sounds as if the piece is more of a lump than a
sculpture.  This is another subject for discussion:  at what point
should a conservator recommend a decent burial over treatment, and
what criteria are appropriate for attempting to resurrect a corpse?
This leads to questions about describing the prognosis of a
treatment realistically to a client who has little ability to
visualize a possible outcome, even though it is important that he or
she not be surprised in some possible unpredictable way at the end.

I would welcome some musings on these issues, as I believe that they
are the kind of thing that doesn't get discussed very often, and
ideas about them may vary widely between conservators.

B. Appelbaum

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:29
                Distributed: Tuesday, September 22, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-29-002
Received on Monday, 21 September, 1998

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