Art Repair in Manila

Finding the Spot

I recently returned from a week in Manila and the successful completion of several projects at our embassy and ambassador’s residence.

First up was relocating the exact spot where a small concrete sculpture memorializes a significant and dangerous time in our involvement in the Philippines. During World War II the Japanese briefly took over the Philippines. Just before they arrived to occupy our embassy, the small group of remaining staff gathered all our flags and burned them to prevent them from being mistreated by the invaders. The memorial marks the exact spot where the flags were burned and the ashes buried. The memorial was recently moved temporarily to protect it during construction that will last the next 2 years. Luckily, Dan Larson located an old  photo of its location confirmed by the legend that it is ‘6 paces from the tree away from the ocean, and 7 paces to the right’ reflecting the 13 stripes. And sure enough the legend is correct placing the memorial smack in the middle of the flower bed.

Manila US Flag Memorial location

Saving Hands and Feet

Next up was an odd job involving tile artwork adorning the pool at our ambassador’s residence.

This tile design was created by the Picasso of the Philippines, Vicente Manansala (1910-1981), in the early 60’s when the pool was constructed.

Vicente Manansala

Found an earlier painting of his with fish elements that are very similar to those found in the pool design.

"Fishes" by Vicente Manansala
“Fishes” by Vicente Manansala


manansala detail from tile pool
Detail of pool tile


The tiles were cut and installed but never softened, resulting in edges still so sharp that swimmers occasionally cut their feet. I carefully ‘soft-ground’ the edges of more than 1000 tiles over 3 days with the help of Delmar the mason – in fact, I couldn’t have done it without him as it was mid-summer and hot even in the shade! I did 10 minutes at a time. Delmar in his special hat that completely covered his neck, did a 1/2 hour at a time. As a small token of my deep appreciation I gave him my beloved grinding tool.

Manansala pool tile repair in Manila

Tile design by Vicente Manansala
Delmar at work

Repairing ‘Big Washers’

Next on the agenda, repairing cracks in several locations on the sculpture “Yellow Rings” by Carol Brown Goldberg, affectionately known as ‘Big Washers’ by the maintenance staff.

This repair involved removing chipped paint, filling the cracks with 2-part metal epoxy, sanding smooth the epoxy and paint edges, and applying 5 coats of 3 distinct matching enamel colors, lightly sanding between each coat. The artwork was moved to a location to eliminate employee exposure to harmful dust and fumes. Once fully dry and off-gassed, the sculpture was placed back in its original location for a final wipe-down with a soft cloth and mild alcohol.

First the damaged areas were sanded smooth


Then epoxy placed in the cracks and sanded smooth


Then several coats of enamel paint applied


Finally the sculpture was cleaned and put back


One color did not exactly match so I feathered the paint to hide the mismatch. What’s the saying, it’s not how fine the craftwork but how well you hide the mistakes!?

2 Responses

  1. My wife and I have been wanting to find a art restoration service to help us get a sculpture fixed that was in her grandmother’s home. The sculpture has sort of been through the wringer of the years, and I think that a good restoration service would make it a whole new piece of art. You talked about removing chipped paint and filling cracks on sculptures being part of the process, which I’m sure our art piece could benefit from! Thanks to the information, and wish us luck finding a good art restoration service!

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