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Subject: Stone sculpture

Stone sculpture

From: Barbara Appelbaum <aandh>
Date: Wednesday, September 30, 1998
My apologies [to Ebenezer Kotei] if I offended you.  I certainly was
not aware that English is not your first language, but I think the
reason that you have not gotten other replies is the broad nature of
your question.  Of all fields in conservation, the question of
consolidating outdoor stone is in probably the worst state.  Studies
of treatments that are reported to work on one kind of stone seem to
fail miserably on the next, and many seem eventually to promote
rather than prevent further loss, as you are aware.  For stone
objects that are deteriorating badly, particularly if they are to
stay in the same conditions that caused the problem, the literature
seems to indicate no sure way to consolidate what is still there,
not to mention prevent further damage or adhering new restoration
material to a newly consolidated surface.  If bringing the object
inside is not feasible, then proposing a treatment with highly
favorable odds of actually helping the object over the long term is
questionable.  With other kinds of conservation problems, that is,
for indoor objects of many kinds, there is much more leeway to test
treatments and see how they do, or to work out a treatment that has
predicably better odds of succeeding. Impregnation, to be specific,
is not the kind of treatment one can test on a small area and gain
helpful information on its effects under extreme outdoor conditions.

I do not mean to imply that the object does not "deserve" treatment,
but it is my experience that when objects are in a state that
reflects poorly on what they once looked like, it is very difficult
for owners to appreciate the technical difficulty of this kind of
treatment, and there is a danger that they will not be satisfied
with the outcome. Few clients, private or museum staff alike, are
capable of visualizing what a conservator describes to them, and
what conservators see as an improvement in condition does not always
look like that from the other side.

Because of the importance of the exact details of the type of stone,
its condition, and its environment in predicting treatment outcome,
I suspect that the only helpful advice will come from another
conservator who is very experienced in outdoor stone sculpture who
sees the object him- or herself. I still think that the question of
this object, or any other, "needing" treatment is an important
one--this is certainly not the only time it has been brought up--and
requires that the prognosis of the object untreated for now be
carefully compared with the odds of its being treated successfully.
Obviously this is always a judgement call, but if a treatment does
not have pretty solid chances for success either in terms of
long-term preservation of the object or satisfaction of the owner,
then this option should be considered.

If this sculpture is used as a religious object, then the client's
point of view is even more important, and may not be the same as for
someone who sees a sculpture as decorative.  The difference may go
in either direction, that is, a religious object may be seen as
worthy of veneration even if it is in poor condition, or complete
restoration may be sought. Because many conservators have had
unpleasant experiences when clients want them to do something they
think is not proper, it sometimes seems as if judging a treatment by
whether the client will be satisfied is not a good thing. But it is
vital that the conservator know what the client's wishes and
expectations are, so that if the treatment cannot fulfill them, the
issues are dealt with before the treatment rather than afterwards.

Again, my apologies if my remarks seemed unpleasant.  I do not
minimize the difficulties of this situation.  The shortness of
entries in the DistList format sometimes contributes to difficulties
in understanding the exact nature of a situation.

B. Appelbaum

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:32
                 Distributed: Thursday, October 1, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-32-002
Received on Wednesday, 30 September, 1998

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