Author Archives: Bob Hannum

About Bob Hannum

With over 40 years assisting artists, museums, collectors, corporations and our State Department, Bob provides installation, repair, and maintenance of contemporary sculpture and hanging artwork.

Art Restoration in Manila

Restoring a 'Lost' Artwork

First, Saving Hands and Feet

One of the most unusual and difficult projects I've ever worked on is in a large swimming pool in the back yard of our Ambassador's residence in Manila, Philippines. Across the bottom of the pool is a large work of art made of over 7000 individually cut colored tiles.

It was created by the Picasso of the Philippines, Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981) in 1965 when the pool was constructed. Manansala is now considered a national treasure, and although he is well-known in the Philippines and beyond, this artwork is unknown to fans and experts alike. No one seems to know it exists except the US State Department's Office of Cultural Heritage which asked me for help.

Mr. Manansala was prolific, creating many paintings and stained glass artworks, but only a few compositions in tile, and this is one of them. It is a cubist depiction of sea creatures and aquatic plants, a work of great beauty and great value.

Manansala Tile Art

Part of the problem is that there is no complete image of this artwork because it is so large - spanning a 60'x35' pool. I took the photo above but as you can see, it's so large that such an image does it no justice. It needs an overhead photo which presents a unique problem I'll explain in a moment. Below are examples of other work by Manansala.

Manansala pool tile repair in ManilaThe Initial Work

The first step in this multi-year project was to address a safety concern. When the artwork was created, the tiles were cut and installed but never 'softened', resulting in sharp edges that occasionally caused minor cuts to feet and hands.

With the help of the embassy mason, Delmer, we carefully used a special tool (Dremel 4000 with several diamont tipped accessories) on the edges of more than 1000 tiles over three days. I really couldn't have done it without Delmer as it was mid-summer and very hot even in the shade. I did ten minutes at a time. Delmer in his special hat that completely covered his neck, did a half hour at a time.

Back to Manila

Manansala Pool Tile artworkThat done, it was on to the next problem. Over time, some tiles - about 90 - deteriorated and were replaced without matching the original colors or shapes. Who could blame anyone when so few knew this was a valuable artwork. Other tiles were damaged by pool chemical stains, scratches from pool cleaning equipment, dropping tools, etc.

Notice in the photo the tiles that I've marked with red dots. These are just a few of the tiles that were replaced over the years. Luckily, as you can see, they are all one distinct dark gray color so it's easy to spot them. Not so easy was the job of ascertaining the original shapes and colors. A close study of the entire piece plus elements from similar paintings helped me finally figure this out with certainty.

The Director of the Office of Cultural Heritage decided not only to restore this important and unusual artwork, but also track down relatives, cultural officials, editors of art publications, and museum directors to plan a special dedication when the restoration is finished. After all, an unusual, important, valuable, and 'lost' work of art by a renown Filipino artist deserves special attention.

It took months to determine the original shapes and colors. That completed, I located a tile manufacturer in Lisbon, Portugal willing to match the colors in small batches. That company, Viuva Lamego, completed the order and shipped the tile to Manila to await my return.

I brought special tools to cut curves in tile. The lack of these tools may have been the reason the original tile shapes were not previously matched. I originally planned to show the mason how to use this equipment and leave it so that he and his team can do future restoration without help. But that plan changed for reasons I'll explain.

I also brought twenty tiles fabricated here inTile Label with Filipino Translation the US to place in a bronze frame to display near the pool. This is a label in English and Filipino indicating for visitors a bit about the artist.

Special thanks to Gloria Shanstrom at Enduring Images for the tile fabrication, and to Casper Talaeay from Lancaster, PA for the Filipino translation. I learned from Casper that there are many dialects in the Philippines. The major one is Tagalog displayed in the label.

Related Projects:

Pool Tile Artwork by Vicente ManansalaAs I mentioned, the artwork is so large that no photo exists showing the entire piece. A simple solution is a drone camera, but drone photography is a hard ask for embassy security folks tasked with the protection of our foreign diplomats and their families. Photos are strictly forbidden that show security cameras, or even doors and windows. But that was just the beginning of the problem. This residence happens to be close to a Philippine armed forces base, close enough that drones of any kind are prohibited. So we will try photos from the roof of the residence, maybe with a GoPro camera attached to a long pole. Let's see if that works! The photo shown here taken from one side of the pool with a wide-angle lens is only half of the piece! You can just make out a few cubist sea creatures and Delmer in the background.

I located two granddaughters of the artist, and a grandson. One is an expert on her grandfather's artwork. I continue to follow leads and hope to locate many more interested parties.

June 2022 Update

With a break in the Covid pandemic, I returned to Manila for six weeks in February 2022 to continue the restoration. It was a bit more complicated this time with more costly airfare, a five-day quarantine, a negative Covid test before I got on the plane, and a Philippine visa which I could only get in-person at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.

First thing when I arrived, I checked the color tiles - did they match close enough? Yes for 23 but no for 5! So we did our work with the tiles we had. I also discovered that many more tile repairs were needed than I originally realized. On closer inspection, the previous 'repairs' were done quickly causing 'overcuts' in adjoining tiles. These too needed to be replaced. And more replacements had been done in the recent past despite admonishments not to! And scratches - so many scratches and chips caused by mops and typical pool cleaning accessories. What was originally a 90-tile restoration became a 800 tile project!

So I returned for another final six weeks in May 2022 to finish before the new ambassador arrives in July.

Manansala movement

This is a gorgeous piece and one of the most interesting and valuable I've ever worked on in my four-decade career. But even more exciting is a mystery! The tilework is very fine with tight 'toothpick' seams between the tiles and hard-to-cut details. And the details... here's the fascinating part!

Why such details? Why did the artist require that his masons cut difficult and time-consuming shapes that can't be seen when the pool is filled? There must be a reason.

Manansala devoted his life to the cubist movement and was always experimenting, always pushing the limits. He became particularly famous for what is now known as 'Transparent Cubism' which pushed the cubist concepts of 3-dimensionality.

I believe he was experimenting again, this time with another idea. I think he discovered that these details work along with sunlight and water to create movement. Take a look at the fish photo. I apologize for the blue - we were under a blue tarp to provide shade while we worked. If you look closely you can see intricate and difficult detail which makes no sense unless Manansala figured it would DO something. But I can't test this theory until I see these details with the pool filled - next time!

I've also discovered that this is a rare piece. Manansala created another small cubist tilework depicting the Crucifiction - this is in a private collection - and a large representational mosaic entitled 'Our Lady of Fatima - Thank You' on the chapel facade of Far Eastern University in Manila. The small (18"x53") cubist tile piece appeared at auction years ago at a bid of $10,000. We can use this as a comp but a poor one at best since there is no date of the auction, no final sale price, and no authentication - there are many fake Manansala's. This comp gives a value to the pool piece of at least $2,000,000.

Regardless of the price, this artist is a 'national treasure' of the Philippines and a major contributor in the Cubist art movement. Without question the pool artwork is valuable and important. Thus, I feel differently about the idea of training staff to do future repairs. Though the embassy masons are very skilled and careful, I feel that only conservators should touch it, and there be strict guidelines for cleaning it such as never stepping on it, never using abrasives, etc. I don't even feel comfortable with anyone but CH cleaning it! It's an expensive proposition, but in my opinion well worth it.

The project is complete. It meets my perfectionist standards! And so glad this grueling project is over - daily heat, dust, noise, and rather dangerous tools made for an exhausting project. I was not able to test my theory before I left due to the fact that the pool requires 4 days to fill and I did not have that time to spare before my scheduled flight home. But in the fall I may be returning briefly to participate in a ceremony marking this important restoration. I'll test the theory then.

Below are images of the artist.

The US Dept of State newsletter features several Office of Cultural Heritage restoration projects including this one. Have a look.

Sculpture on the Highway

‘Untitled’ sculpture by Herbert Baumann 1968
‘Untitled’ by Herbert Baumann 1968 located at the I-91 southbound Hartford Rest Area

The Story Begins in 1968

"OK, now what?!" Or so I imagine the words of Paul Aschenbach standing in front of over twenty monumental sculptures.

He'd gathered artists from all over the world - the United States, Austria, Japan, South Africa, Germany, and Yugoslavia - to create these huge works of art in marble and concrete. What's more, it was not only a grand sculpture project. This was a great vision of the power of open minds and communication at the height of the Cold War when the political world was rife with fear and closed borders.

Now with all these sculptures completed, where to put them? Too big for most museums.

Aschenbach was a sculptor and an associate professor of art at the University of Vermont. He brought together all these fellow sculptors in what became known as the Vermont Sculpture Symposium in 1968, 1971, and 1990. The first two would result in what is now called 'Sculpture on the Highway', the largest sculpture park in the world!

The Symposia

The Vermont Sculpture Symposium was inspired by a worldwide movement known as the International Sculpture Symposium. It was founded in 1959 by the Austrian sculptor Karl Prantl who also participated in the first Vermont symposium.

As noted in Wikipedia,

This initiative grew from the need to facilitate communication and exchange between members of the international sculpture community. It was also rooted in Cold War tensions, which lent a particular urgency to the need for cross-cultural dialogue on a person-to-person basis. The first international sculpture symposium took place in an abandoned stone quarry in Sankt Margarethen im Burgenland."

'Axe VIII’ sculpture by Bradford Graves 1971
'Axe VIII’ by Bradford Graves 1971 located at the I-89 northbound Williston Rest Area

Prantl organized several sculpture symposia in Europe and elsewhere including Japan, Israel, and Canada.

Supporting Vermont's symposia were grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Their funding was matched with goods and services provided by two regional industrial benefactors, the Vermont Marble Company (1968) and the concrete manufacturer S.T. Griswold & Company (1971).

Four Towers by Eduardo Ramirez
'Cuarto Torres’ (Four Towers) by Eduardo Ramirez 1971 located at the I-89 southbound Williston Rest Area

Marble and Concrete

Twenty-two sculptures were created during Vermont's first two symposia. Some were sold according to an agreement among the artists, including a sculpture by Clement Meadmore. One was damaged beyond repair during a later relocation effort. The remaining sixteen were placed at rest areas up and down Vermont highways I-91 and I-89 totalling more than 300 miles.

Half are marble created in the first symposium. The other half are reinforced cast and applied concrete created in the second symposium.

'Untitled’ by Viktor Rogy 1968
'Untitled’ by Janez Lenassi 1968

My Role

Giving back to the community is important to me. One of my pro bono projects is helping the Vermont State Curator, David Schutz, conserve these important artworks.

The first step was to inspect the condition of each sculpture. This assessment would be the groundwork for grant proposals David and his team would soon submit. The largest and most prestigious grant, 'Save America's Treasures', would provide resources for conservation.

Some sculptures need to be moved. Some need foundations. All need to be cleaned. Cracks, chips, and graffiti need attention. The good news is that they're all in remarkably good condition for 50 years old. With timely and proper attention, they can last another 50 years and beyond.

'Untitled' by Minoru Niizuma 1968
'Untitled’ by James Silva 1971

The Adventure Begins

So off I went to find these huge objects. Some were difficult to locate, obscured by forest growth, blocked by fencing, or in areas that are now closed to the public. At times, bushwhacking through the forest, I felt like Indiana Jones! Eventually, I found them all.

Next up, creating the conditions report and plans for restoration and on-going maintenance. The goal, as explained by our State Curator, is not to bring these sculptures back to their original condition but rather to delay the natural deterioration for as long as possible.

‘Socha pre Betón/Sculpture for Concrete’ by Rudolph Uher 1971
'Trois Traces' by Yasuo Mizui 1968
'Untitled' by Isaac Witkin 1971
'Untitled' by Carl Floyd 1971

Conservation Needs

The first priority is to move a few. Some are too close to a roadway, or in locations susceptible to vandalism, or in areas that are now inaccessible to the public. The second priority is to give them all sturdy foundations. Next, fill cracks since the freeze/thaw cycle of Vermont weather causes the most damage. Each year cracks get a bit wider and longer.

Another major concern is 'sugaring'. This is a kind of degradation to the surface of outdoor marble. The cause is weather, acid rain, pine needles, bird droppings - just about every outdoor condition. Marble is simply not a great choice for outdoor sculpture. Over time, smooth marble surfaces turn into tiny rough grains of stone the texture of granulated sugar.

Other needs can wait a bit longer if necessary, such as chip repair, coating exposed rebar, removing graffiti, cleaning off moss, dirt, and mold, and installing signage.

Related Projects:

Signage of some kind is important not only for interpretation, but also for preservation. Research shows that some kind of label next to outdoor art reduces vandalism. But signage right next to these works is a problem. Signage was not the artist's original intent. Many symposia artists felt that signage and even titles impede a viewers encounter with art, an idea articulated most famously by Susan Sontag's 1966 collection of essays 'Against Interpretation'. So we'll have to give further thought to this issue. Maybe signage at the beginning of a long path leading to the sculpture? We'll see.

‘Untitled’ by A. Dieter Trantenroth 1971
Cracks in the sculptures are a high priority

VTrans to the Rescue

Then a pleasant surprise! The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), our state highway department, got wind of our efforts and offered to help. Now we're working with VTrans on another large grant which will take care of moving sculptures, creating foundations, and improving rest areas. We plan to begin this critical first stage in preservation when Covid subsides.

Getting Started

The plan is to move some of the sculptures to high-use rest areas to reduce the risk of vandalism and for maximum public access. Others will have their current areas cleaned and improved.

‘Untitled’ by Erich Reischke 1968
‘Untitled’ by Paul Aschenbach 1971

Grant applications will be submitted in 2021 and 2022. If we're lucky and all goes as planned, work will be completed by the end of 2025, including exciting interpretive programs at rest stops, welcome centers, and websites.

In the meantime, we're organizing 'Friends of Sculpture on the Highway', and invite you to join! We are a group of the original artists, their family members and friends, and interested citizens gathering to support the project. Please join us by contacting me with a comment below or emailing me directly at All are welcome to join in this exciting project!

These sixteen sculptures are an important piece of Vermont history. They hold a unique place in contemporary art as works of significance and value that must not be neglected.

Update: August 2019

The niece of one of the sculptors, Erich Reischke, just contacted me! She read this article and is coming to visit Vermont this fall with her sister to see their uncle's artwork.

Also, one of my clients, the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of our US State Department, just offered to review our conservation plans. CH is a small team of incredibly talented art conservators who travel the world caring for the vast collection of art in our embassies and ambassador residences. They're a wonderful group of people and I'm thrilled to be working with them!

As one of the members of our group recently remarked, there's a lot of positive energy gathering around this project. The stars are aligned!

Update: October 2019

Our group continues to meet, visit the sites, and plan for their preservation. We're focused on several grant applications for funding, such as the federal ‘Save America’s Treasures’ grant and a couple of state highway grants, one of which we have already received for planning. So, we are gathering all our notes and estimates – wish us luck!

In the meantime, we continue to search for the artists that are still alive or their family members. Three are still alive – Ruddick, Silva, and Katsuji.

We just met with two sisters who are nieces of Erich Reischke. They came from California to see his sculpture. Byron Breese, Director of our volunteer 'Friends of Sculpture on the Highway', and I, spent an afternoon with them at their uncle’s sculpture, talking and reminiscing.

They shared memories of Erich’s fascinating and unusual life – living on a commune, becoming a Sikh, shunned by his family, and then later beloved.

Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke
Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke, nieces of Eric Reischke, sitting on his sculpture.
Sylvia Reischke, niece of Eric Reische standing next to one of his sculptures
Sylvia Reischke

Yesterday Byron and I traveled to Northampton, MA, about 2.5 hours drive south to meet halfway, one of the remaining original sculptors, Peter Ruddick, who drove up with a friend from New York City where Peter has an art exhibition. He lives in California.

We spent three hours listening to memories of his upbringing in England during the WWII, his teaching career in Oregon, then at the Pratt Institute in New York City, and then Goddard College in Vermont. He spoke at length of his recollection of both Vermont symposia. Each one lasted about two months. He spoke about the artists that influenced him most such as Louise Bourgeois and especially, for him, Alberto Giacometti. I was particularly enthralled since I'd recently restored a Bourgeois sculpture at our ambassador's residence in London, and Giacometti is my all-time favorite!

Peter supports our plans for foundations and interpretation for all the sculptures. His contribution to ‘Sculpture on the Highway’ was thought to be untitled but he informed us that it’s ‘Sextant’. He explained the influences behind it - climbing over bunkers and looking thru machine gun sites left over from the war in England as a child.

He explained that he and the other artists were involved in choosing the location and exact placement of their pieces. For him the circle of 'Sextant' framed the mountains in the distance and the diamond framed cars on the highway and parked at the rest stop. We plan to move this sculpture and Peter enjoyed our suggestion of the Sharon Welcome Center where it could once again align with a view of the mountains at one end and the highway at the other.

Plans are also afoot to reconstruct a missing sculpture by Kishida Katsuji who is still alive. It was destroyed years ago while trying to move it.

All of these remarkable pieces are 50 years old in 2021. To mark the occasion we’re considering special events such as another symposium, national and state Historic Register designation, the reconstruction of this piece, and other exciting possibilities.

Peter Ruddick, Bob Hannum, and Byron Breese
Peter Ruddick, Bob Hannum, and Byron Breese in Paul & Elizabeth’s Restaurant, Northampton, MA 10/7/19
‘Sextant' by Peter Ruddick
Peter Riddick’s ‘Sextant’ at a closed weigh station on I-89 South in Sharon
Sculpture on the Highway by Kishida Katsuji
Kishida Katsuji sculpture at Sharon Rest Stop, I-89 North, destroyed years ago in an attempt to move it.
‘Untitled’ sculpture by Karl Prantl
‘Untitled’ by Karl Prantl 1968

Update: March 2020

A local reporter from 'Seven Days' called me. He saw this post and wanted to know more about 'Sculpture on the Highway.' He mentioned that Kate Pond participated in these symposia and that she lives close-by. So began my adventure with Ms. Pond!

"What Is the Large Metallic Structure at the Border in Highgate?" is a wonderful article about the work of the prominent Vermont sculptor Kate Pond. She and I are in conversation about her memories as a student of Paul Aschenbach and Clement Meadmore, prominent players in "Sculpture on the Highway'. The article mentions a third Vermont sculpture symposium organized by Paul Aschenbach in 1990. Sculptures from this symposium can now be seen in Battery Park in Burlington.

More about Kate as our conversations continue.

Update: August 2020

We got a grant! A small 'Scoping Grant' from VTrans to establish costs to plug into a larger VTrans grant application. This is the first, hopefully, of many more successful grant applications! It's one of the four grants we're going after. Had to reapply for the other three. This delay is a blessing in disguise since now we're adding support from artists, family members, art organizations, and other interested parties.

We've discovered that the symposia resumed about 20 years ago in Maine. That symposium resulting in 34 sculptures found in cities and towns along 200 miles of the northern Maine coast from Castine to Eastport. Known as the Maine Sculpture Trail, five consecutive symposia were founded by the Maine sculptor Jesse Salisbury who just joined our 'Friends of Sculpture on the Highway'. We'll be exploring these connections as well.

Update: February 2021

Our big federal grant application to 'Save America's Treasures' has just been submitted. It's such a strong application with contributions from so many over so much time. It's brought many wonderful people together. We should hear in several months - wish us luck!

Our 'Friends' Director Byron Breese just found this video of Karl Prantl who passed away in 2010 at the age of 87.

Update: September 2021

Fabulous news! We just received a 'Save America's Treasures' grant! And for the entire amount we asked for. I'm dancing as I type! This grant is entirely devoted to cleaning and restoring the sculptures.

We're not stopping here! Soon we're set to submit the equally large grant application to VTrans to move sculptures, place them on foundations, and upgrade their rest areas - a huge and costly endeavor.

We continue to track down friends and relatives of the original artists. We found Doug Griswold whose father was the owner of ST Griswold Company (later sold to SD Ireland) which donated concrete and work space for all of the second symposium artists. Doug was just out of college having worked at his dad's company since he was 11. He was assigned to assist all the artists. We can't wait to gather and share his stories.

Concrete was an experimental medium for art in the early 70's. Doug made himself available daily to the artists to problem-solve in the creation of their sculpture. We just had the first of many zoom calls with Doug and one of the many interesting memories he shared was that he spent a lot of time trying to convince the artists to look at concrete as a new medium rather than the medium they were used to. He said he didn't succeed with certain artists and you can tell from the pieces they created. For example, Meadmore designed his sculpture like he did his metal sculptures, the Ramirez piece looks like the wood he's used to, and Graves carved a large block of concrete as if it was stone. Others were more successful such as Sylva, Ruddick, Uher, and Floyd. Fascinating!

These meetings are being recorded. Soon we'll make them available on our new website being created pro bono by the premier website development team of Midnightson Designs.

Update: April 2022

We just submitted two more grant applications. One is for funding to create a website to accommodate all of our many needs including fundraising. The other is for the costs of interpretation such as signage and audio-visual displays at the rest areas where the sculptures are located. We will hear about these applications in June. Stay tuned!

Best Bronze Protection

Whale Dance by Jim Sardonis
‘Whale Dance’ by Jim Sardonis, July 2019, bronze with dark patina, 16’ x 12’, Randolph, VT. Photo by Lelonie Oatway.

Why Coat Bronze

The use of wax to coat bronze sculpture has a long tradition.

Archaeological evidence of the 'hot-wax' technique for creating bronze jewelry dates back as far as the first evidence of bronze itself - around 3500 BC. So I imagine that it wasn't too long before someone noticed how nice a bronze statue or pendant looks when polished with wax, and how it protects against fingerprints and weather.

And so the use of wax to coat metal sculpture, particularly bronze, became a tradition that is still going strong today.

The Trouble With Wax

I've used wax myself on sculptures. But recent research definitively shows that new products are better. After using a particular acrylic polymer known as Everbrite, I'm totally convinced that acrylics are better in so many ways.

The Advantage of Acrylic Polymer

First, let's talk about application. Acrylics are much easier to apply. Simply paint, spray, or wipe it on. Anyone can do it. Whereas wax has to be applied hot requiring an experienced conservator. Additionally, before applying wax, the old has to be removed and the surface cleaned. With Everbrite, yes, previous wax needs to be removed and the surface cleaned just as carefully, but if you're re-coating over an acrylic, no removal is necessary.

Sure, an acrylic coating needs to be cleaned, but that's a much easier process of wiping with water and cloth. Furthermore, when you apply an acrylic over an acrylic it 'self-anneals' meaning, it bonds to the old coat automatically. Huge plus over wax! By the way, acrylics also 'self-level', meaning that they do not streak when applied at the right temperature.

Now let's look at another benefit of acrylic polymer: protection. Only in the last couple of decades have we developed the technology to determine just how effective wax is. Research conclusively shows that even the best quality wax doesn't last as long as we thought and acrylic polymers last much longer.

How long wax lasts on a sculpture is purely a guess. Some conservators claim up to two years. Others say three months. The truth is, you can't be certain unless you test it. For outdoor sculpture, it all depends on the weather. It's so variable that wax on one side of a sculpture will weather more than the other side. To know just how long wax lasts, you need to test the particular sculpture which is a time-consuming and expensive process. I'm shaking my head, because why go to this effort and expense when we know that acrylic polymer lasts longer, up to ten years!

Everbrite also provides UV and anti-oxidant protection, fills pin holes and hairline cracks, and does not yellow.

Frankly, I think it's simply nonsense to ever use wax again on outdoor sculpture. Many of my sculpture conservation colleagues now agree - a recent poll shows that most conservators now use acrylic polymers on outdoor sculpture.

Assessing Different Acrylic Polymers

I rely on the US Park Service and the Getty Conservation Institute for the latest research on best products and practices. Unfortunately they have not yet studied any acrylic polymers other than Incralac which they found superior to wax.

Acrylic polymers were first developed in the 60's. Incralac was the first and still widely used today. Improved acrylic coatings followed with Permalac and Everbrite about 30 years ago.

Incralac and Permalac both last outdoors 3-5 years. Incralac is known to peel so it must be removed before re-coating. Everbrite lasts 5-10 years and along with Permalac does not need to be removed to re-coat.

All provide UV protection, self-anneal, and self-level.

Everbrite provides any gradation of satin or matte finish desired at no extra charge. Permalac now comes in a satin finish but no gradations are yet available. Incralac is coated in wax to achieve a satin or matte finish.

Four coats of Permalac are required for outdoor sculpture. Everbrite just 2.

So for cost, protection, and ease of application I prefer Everbrite.

The Downside

One drawback is that acrylic polymer is solvent-based so it's flammable, and can irritate skin, eyes, and lungs. Thus, gloves, respirator, and eye protection must be used. Certain plastic containers and brush bristles will melt on contact with solvents-based products such as these, so I use metal containers and natural-hair brushes, available and inexpensive at any hardware store.

There is now a water-based Incralac, but it is not recommended for patina treated bronze which is most outdoor bronze sculpture.

Bob Hannum and Jim Sardonis
Bob Hannum and Jim Sardonis

Coating 'Whale Dance'

I most enjoy installing and restoring sculpture when I can work with the artist.

This job was just that. I met the sculptor Jim Sardonis when he asked me to remove graffiti from one of his sculptures. Now he wanted me to clean and coat this wonderful sculpture.

Related Projects:

The first step was a close inspection and estimate of what the job requires. That done, I asked the artist if he had a preferred product for coating his sculpture. This is a touchy question because Jim no longer owns this sculpture. It was purchased for permanent public display. Thus, Jim doesn't really have any say in this, though recent laws give artists some control over their art even after they sell it.

Nonetheless, any decent conservator wants to know and respect an artist's wishes when reasonable. And like most sculptors, Jim preferred wax, but after I presented the wax versus acrylic issue, Jim changed his mind in favor of Everbrite.

Acrylic polymer is particularly protective in the harsh freeze-thaw weather cycles that we have here in Vermont and throughout New England. Acid rain, bird droppings, and pine needles add an extra degree of stress on outdoor sculpture. Wax lasts only months in these conditions. Acrylic polymers last years.

Getting Started

Next we worked on a perfect shade of satin. We painted many small patches right on the sculpture. These could be easily removed later. Everbrite sent us several small test batches. Jim made the final selection. We stayed six feet apart throughout to adhere to our state's Covid-19 precautions. The final selection turned out to be 1/4 of the usual satin chemical mixture. We also tested brush versus wipe. The coating takes only 20 minutes to dry to the touch and 60 minutes between coats. I called Everbrite and they mixed and shipped our custom request within a day.

I carefully cleaned the surface of all the old wax and accumulated dirt using mild soap and water. For problem areas such as a few spots of mild corrosion, I used a solvent which does not harm the patina.

I applied two coats of the custom-mixed Everbrite satin that Jim chose. The first coat sealed small cracks and pits.

Final Results

More and more conservators now use acrylic polymer coatings including the Getty Conservation Institute.

The Everbrite coating restored a new look identical to the original dark brown bronze patina.

No maintenance is required other than wiping with a cotton cloth and tap water. When the coating fades, just reapply a new one without removing the old. Anyone with painting experience can do it.

Two coats will last up to ten years depending on weather conditions. Acrylic polymers are so durable that I offer a five-year warranty to all my clients.

Bob Hannum restoring 'Whale Dance'

Monumental Mystery!

Challenger Memorial

The Challenger Disaster

Nearly hidden away on an obscure plot of land in Montpelier, Vermont is a memorial to the 'Challenger Seven'. These are the astronauts who died on January 28, 1986 when NASA's space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into launch. The seven included the first civilian astronaut, Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher from neighboring New Hampshire.

It was a particularly awful disaster because students and teachers from all over the United States and beyond were inspired by Ms. McAuliffe, including our local science classes. Many children watched on live television when seconds into the launch excitement turned to disbelief and horror as the shuttle exploded. Retired Montpelier science teacher Roger Crowley who was watching with his students recalls, “It was the most difficult time I’ve ever had in the classroom.”

My class was part of the Teacher in Space program and we communicated with Christa many times. We were doing experiments in the classroom with tomato seeds that had been in space. It was interesting how some parents thought the seeds and tomatoes we grew were harmful with alien stuff. Curious even after telling them that they were sealed while in space and the experiments had to do with the effects of gravity on growth. Anyway, we ate the tomatoes. My room was full that day of students, parents, and guests watching the Challenger take off.

The Problem

As a member of the Montpelier Public Art Commission, one of my duties is to assess our current public art. When I got to this memorial, a beautiful granite work of art in a place that people can’t get to, it called out to me to be moved to a new location where parking is available, walking is safe, and people can get up close and be as moved as I am.

My fellow Commission members agreed and so began an adventure!

The Mystery

First step, who owns it? Turns out no one. The National Life Insurance Company, now the National Life Group, donated the land where it sits. The Roselli family donated it. The City installed it. No records. No paperwork. The City, school, and National Life agreed to hand it over to our Commission.

The History

Thanks to readers of the Front Porch Forum here's what we now know:

- Daniel Roselli designed the monument. He died of cancer in 2004 at the age of 49 and is buried next to his parents in Green Mount Cemetery. "Danny deserves all the credit on this. He…got everything done," remarked his father.

- His parents, Evelyn and Vic, owned Desilets Granite Company, a well-known monument manufacturer, now condos on Barre Street. They fabricated and funded the memorial.

- Vic hired Ed Epstein, who still resides locally, to etch the image on the memorial which includes two slabs of granite, one light ‘Barre Gray’ from a local quarry and the other ‘India Dark’ which was imported.

- The City raised money to design and plant a small park surrounding the memorial which is now long gone.

- The National Life Group donated the land where it now sits and took excellent care of it.

- A well-attended dedication was held in the fall of 1986 which included local school children and teachers. Many Front Porch Forum readers remember the hot day and even a few kids fainting.

The Benefactor

From the beginning our Commission intended that no taxpayer funds be involved in this project, particularly when so many are financially stressed by COVID. To our tremendous appreciation, the National Life Group offered, unsolicited, to cover all the costs. Several Front Porch Forum readers have also offered financial aid. Our City Counselor, Conor Casey, offered to help with any snags.

The Project

The monument is in excellent condition, though it needs a good cleaning which I’ll donate – my business is art restoration with a sideline in monument cleaning.

The project entails carefully removing the memorial and its foundation, pouring a new one in a more accessible location, and reinstalling it.

Matthew Calcagni and his brothers who own GCB Corp (Granite Company of Barre), with many decades of experience in monument installation, will do the work.

The plan is to move it when the ground is solid enough for heavy equipment, so as not to disturb an underground culvert next to the memorial.

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The public will be canvassed about the best new location with accessibility and a measure of security to reduce the risk of vandalism. For extra protection, I'll coat the monument so that any 'tagging' (art industry lingo for graffiti) is easily removed.

Possible Locations

Three beautiful locations have been mentioned: our 'Peace Park', anywhere on the high school grounds, or anywhere next to a new stretch of the bike path between the center of Montpelier and the new Transit Center.

So far, only one person objects to moving it. His reasoning is sound: the current location is so obscure it discourages vandalism. Can’t guarantee a graffiti-free location but we do promise that the security concern is front and center.

Final Questions

Mysteries remained, the apples arranged on the top of the memorial from time to time, and why was Dan so passionate about this? He had no kids. He was not a teacher or coach or otherwise involved with the school. He was busy learning his parents’ granite business which he would soon take over.

So why did he do this? One of his closest friends, Doug Zorzi, emailed me to explain that Dan was truly a rare kind of person who was not only deeply moved by the disaster, but doubly moved by the added tragedy that so many young people witnessed it first-hand.

After Dan died a high school scholarship fund was established in his family’s name.

Update: November 2021 - Mission Accomplished!

A gentleman recently contacted me to solve the apple mystery - why apples are found atop the monument every year. He explained that local residents still honor Ms. McAuliffe by bringing an apple for the teacher. Coincidentally, the monument now sits in front of an apple tree. Wait, there are no coincidences!

The monument has been placed in its new location and with a nice granite platform. It's also been cleaned and coated. And a brief informal re-dedication ceremony hosted by Montpelier Mayor Anne Watkins occured on a rainy Thursday, November 18 at 4pm. Several dozen townspeople attended, including Dan's friend Doug.

About that beautiful granite platform - that was not part of the original monument. But here is just one example of many unexpected positive experiences that happened throughout this project! Mat Calcagni, one of the owners of GCB which removed the monument from its old location, then stored it while we all finished processing permits and permissions for the new location, then arranged the excavating of a new foundation and the concrete pouring and the Dig Safe approval, said to me as his brother sat in the excavator digging the new hole, "Bob, how about a platform of granite - it would look so much nicer and protect the monument from accidental scraping by lawn equipment?" I looked at him for a moment in awe. I realized that his idea would perfectly frame the monument as well as protect it - the monument would look even better - but I'm the one with the art experience! That should have been my idea! All I could say in response was, humbly, "Brilliant! Let's do it!" Then a problem arose. We were about to pour the concrete and it needed two days to set before we placed the monument on it. No way we could order a thick piece of granite to be cut in the dimensions we needed and delivered in two days. It normally takes a couple weeks and now with Covid it would be months! Then Mat said that he knew people who owed him some favors so he'd see what he could do. He phone me a couple hours later to say he'd have the slab delivered the next day!

While I was cleaning it, a man introduced himself as a retired National Life employee. For over 20 years he drove by the old site of the monument twice a day on his commute, but never noticed the etching, never got up close to see the names, never knew what it was all about. He was thankful that we moved it so he and others can now stop and recall for a moment the supreme sacrifice of these seven men and women so honored by this beautiful work of art.

Ed Epstein
Ed Epstein at the re-dedication of the Challenger Memorial. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur. Courtesy Seven Days.
Doug Zorzi
Doug Zorzi introduced himself to me at the rededication.
Mayor Anne Watson
Mayor Anne Watson lead the ceremony
National Life Group
Scott Rogers and friends from the National Life Group
The Roselli Family at the dedication of the Challenger memorial
Caption for the newspaper photo of the Roselli family

Antique Plaster Frame Restoration


A moving company contacted me. They just relocated a client from the midwest to a small town in Vermont. One of the client's objects was damaged, an antique mirror with a gold-painted plaster frame. Part of the top of the frame - the eagle's head - was broken. Could I restore it?

Technically, it's a gilt plaster frame. Gilt is a thin coat of gold leaf or paint. In this case, the plaster is coated with both genuine gold paint and non-gold or 'gold-effects' paint. Gold paint does not tarnish while gold-effects paint contains particles that look like gold but will tarnish over time.

No problem.

We agreed on a price and I soon received the mirror. I took pictures of the damage and began researching the internet for similar objects. I noticed that it had been repainted at least a couple times in certain places. This meant that the antique had been repaired before. Despite previous repairs the surface remained genuine gold paint. There were also many small chips in the plaster surface and one other section where plaster was missing. I decided to repair these as well at no extra charge.

My Internet search revealed similar objects which are not identical but helpful in recreating the missing plaster. It also revealed that mirrors of this type are quite valuable even in a restored state.


First step, cleaning. This is done with soft cotton balls lightly moistened with water. I removed dirt by very slowly and lightly swiping the surface without alowing moisture into the cracks.

Drilling and Pins

Next step, drill holes into the two broken sections. I glued tiny metal pins into these holes to strengthen the new plaster and make the repair as durable as possible. My work is guarantee so I don't want to repair this object again for free! The drilling process sometimes causes further damage by cracking the plaster, so I used the thinnest drill bit on a high-speed drill. Great care was taken to make the holes shallow and keep them away from the sides.


After letting the epoxy dry overnight, I moistened the existing original plaster with a brush and water. This allows more of a bond between the old plaster and the new. There are various latex and other mixes that make the two plaster materials bond better, but I feared that a chemical application of any kind might interact badly with the original plaster since I didn't know exactly what it was.

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There are many kinds of plaster so I used the powder of the original plaster created by the drilling to give me a better idea of what the original plaster mix consisted of. The color also helps in this. If my client requested a high-end (and expensive) repair, the powder would be sent out for chemical analysis to match it exactIy. I settled on a traditional product, Plaster of Paris.

The new plaster was mixed, applied, and allowed to completely dry for several days.


Next, the dried plaster was shaped to match the original. I used various types of fine sand paper from 220 to 600 grit.

After shaping, several coats of gesso were applied to seal the plaster and prime the surface for paint. The gesso is thick so I also use it to smooth the surface of the plaster by filling streaks and small holes. I sanded the gesso to more finely match the original surface texture.


Now the fun part. I mixed various shades of gold paint (14 and 24 karat) along with darker and lighter pigments to exactly match the original genuine gold surface as well as the non-gold streaks of tarnish and age.

Several coats were applied and each was followed by light sanding to match the texture of the original.

While I was at it, I repaired over three dozen tiny chips and scapes.

The project was finished in four weeks. The client was so satisfied that he's asked me to repair other pieces from his antiques and art collection.

Cleaning Grave Stones

I clean gravestones and memorial plaques using products and practices that remove dirt and moss without harming any type of stone or metal. Chipped, gouged, and scratched surfaces can also be repaired. A couple hours is all it takes. Products are non-toxic and biodegradeable.

gravestone restoration complete
Gravestone Cleanup Complete

The process starts by moistening the surface with water. This particular gravestone is granite. Then I spray a biocide and let it soak for a few minutes. Using a special accessory attached to my cordless drill I begin to scrub off the dirt and moss. This tool alows me to clean all the nooks and crannies without scratching the surface. Finally, I rinse it all off with water. If needed I repeat the process, but in general, one pass is all it needs.

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This is a great example of a heavily weathered stone that cleans up very well.

Mural Restoration in Kingston, Jamaica

Commissioned by the Office of Cultural Heritage of the US State Department

large mural by Dorothea Rockburne at the US Embassy in Kingston JamaicaMural by Dorothea Rockburne

I assembled a team to restore a number of elements involved in a large mural by Dorothea Rockburne. Lights, a barrier, signage, and a stone baseboard needed attention. The project involved several trips to Kingston over the course of three years. The final trip included the artist to inspect and make final changes.


When this embassy was built in 2003, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) commissioned the New York based artist Dorothea Rockburne to create a large mural (approximately 40 feet tall x 20 feet wide) in the embassy’s central atrium.

The mural was installed by Ms. Rockburne’s studio personnel four years later in 2007. The title of the mural is Folded Sky, Homage to Colin Powell (Colin Powell was borne in Jamaica). It is acrylic paint and gold leaf on canvas which is permanently affixed to the concrete wall.

The Problems

original barriers too tall
Old barrier – too tall

The original lighting design in the stone baseboard was immediately found to be inadequate. New lights were installed on the opposite walls, but daylight shadows remained problematic. A barrier was placed by the embassy to prevent employees and visitors from inadvertently brushing against the fragile gold leaf, but the barrier was too large, obscuring the lower section of the mural. Holes in the stone baseboard from the original light fixtures were covered by foam core and painted to match the surrounding stone.


Rob Long and Pete Milo from Clear Story Creative, lighting experts out of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, joined our team. They created a new light design, cleaned and adjusted the current lights, added a few more, and installed shades over the third floor windows. Lights and shades were programmed to automatically adjust to three light settings – sunny daylight, cloudy daylight, and night – without needing to be turned on and off by staff. Scaffolding was required so we worked weekends and evenings in order not to disturb the important work of the embassy personnel.

I replaced damaged signage. The embassy staff contracted a local stone mason to replace the baseboard. And a new, museum-quality barrier was chosen by the artist and shipped to Kingston where I installed it.

During these visits the facilities manager of the embassy requested that the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) ‘finish’ the installation of art since many blank walls remained throughout the common areas of the embassy following the original curation by Art in Embassies. During my previous visits and under the guidance of CH Curator Joe Angemi, approximately 40 new artworks were selected by embassy employees from among the FAPE collection and shipped. I installed them during these visits. However, there remained three distinct art label designs throughout the embassy so I initiated the creation of consistent signage and the use of label tape that does not damage walls.

new barrier for mural by Dorothea Rockburne
New barrier

86 new labels were installed using removable and reusable tape that does not damage paint or discolor wood and stone. No artwork in the embassy is missing a new label, and this is now the first embassy with consistent museum-quality labeling.

I also straightened over 120 wall-hangings.

As the project director I worked with FAPE, CH, and the embassy to arrange travel, transportation, security clearance, equipment, and contractors.

The artist was very pleased with the outcome.

Ceramic Restoration

Repairing Damaged Ceramic Is Tricky

Claire Van Vliet

Acclaimed artist and recipient of the MacArthur 'Genius Award', Claire Van Vliet asked me to restore a prized ceramic artwork known as 'Split-Footed Bowl' by Karen Karnes.

Karen Karnes split-footed bowl 1990
'Split-Footed Bowl, 1990' by Karen Karnes

It had fallen over and cracked. Several damaged areas were visible and a thin but inch long chunk of ceramic was missing from inside the pot, leaving a visible void on the inside and outside surfaces.

Cracked Pot

Claire wanted the piece restored. I mentioned that such restoration, no matter how well done, would likely reduce it's value - that's the way it is with art and antiques these days. She knew this, and preferred that the damage not detract from it's beauty.

Here are just a few examples of Ms. Van Vliet's wonderful artwork including her spectacular 'pulp painting' where she mixes pigment with pulp paper and applies it like paint to her artwork.

The MacArthur Award

Claire won the MacArthur for her innovations in book binding. She founded the Janus Press in 1955. Her groundbreaking work includes a glueless book binding technique. She was honored with the MacArthur in 1989, the first ever awarded to a book artist.

Bonnie and Bob Hannum with Claire Van Vliet
Bonnie Cueman, Claire Van Vliet, and Bob Hannum

The Ceramic Pot

"Split-Footed Bowl' was created and wood-fired by Karen Karnes in 1990 in Morgan, VT.

Karen Karnes (1925-2016), an American ceramist, is best known for salt glazed, earth-toned stoneware ceramics, and experiments with wood firing. She was born in New York City and studied in Italy.

Claire intends to gift the piece to the Racine Art Museum which holds the largest collection of contemporary craft in North America.

Here are just a few examples of Ms. Karnes' stunning ceramic artwork.

The Challenge

Ceramic art is difficult to restore. You can't re-fire pottery. I'd heard this but wanting to make sure, so I checked with a local potter. Sure enough, you can't fill a crack or missing piece with clay, re-glaze it, and place it back in a kiln. You just can't re-fire pottery without destroying the original surface glaze and causing even more damage.

The only is to fill the cracks, grind away the filler to match the ceramic texture, and then match the colors and glaze with paint.

I chose a white epoxy, color-fast acrylic paints, and various Dremel tool accessories for working the epoxy to match the surface texture.

It took about 30 hours. The most fun was applying many layers of paint to match that glazed and textured surface. I stretched the work over many months with permission from Claire who was in no hurry.

Ceramic Restoration Finished
Finished - Inside View
Ceramic Restoration Finished
Finished - Outside View

The Unusual Story of How We Met

Claire and I met a couple years ago, but the path was an odd one.

I was working with my colleague Jim Wenzel for the Office of Cultural Heritage. This is a small group of talented conservators and architects in the US State Dept that care for art and historic properties abroad. Our embassies and ambassador residences contain artwork. Some of our embassies are masterpieces of architecture or of great historic value such as the one where Jim and I were working. It was our ambassador's residence in Tokyo famous as the place where General Douglas MacArthur met Emperor Hirohito following WWII to accept Japan's surrender. Perhaps even more significant, this is where the emperor renounced his divinity.

We were in the basement of the embassy inspecting stored artwork and came across a particularly beautiful landscape print. It was by Claire Van Vliet, and it had been purchased by the State Dept many years ago. It was so beautiful that Jim decided to see if the artist was still alive or had a gallery so he could purchase more of her work for other embassies.

Jim returned to his office in DC and began to search for Claire. He was delighted to discover she was still very much alive and as active as ever creating art and printing books in her renown Janus Press. When he asked to purchase more of her work, she tuned the tables and generously donated over 100 of her prints. She wanted to give back to our country that had so generously accepted her as an immigrant and gave her the opportunity to succeed. Jim asked me to meet Claire and pick up the donation since she lived an hour north of my home in Montpelier, Vermont.

That's when I first met Claire, but the amazing part of the story has just begun!

Shortly after our first meeting I headed out on another assignment in our embassy in Ottawa. While inspecting art, the Legal Attache asked if I would replace some of the art in his office with something related to Canada. I told him that normally this would be a difficult request, but he was in luck! I explained that I'd just met Claire, a superb artist who was born in Ottawa, is now a US citizen, her father was a famous pilot in WWII, and she had just made a generous donation to the State Department.

The Attache, Kevin Vorndran, was not only thrilled, he suggested a special event. Invite Claire to the embassy to officially present her artwork and Kevin and the ambassador could officially thank her.

The event was wonderful. Claire donated a special 'pulp painting' and spoke about her work and her personal ties to Ottawa. Many attended including members of the Canadian and American armed forces in honor of her father's illustrious service. Refreshments and photos and speeches followed. For more details click this article that appeared in the State Dept newsletter.

Graffiti Removal in Randolph

Whale Dance by Jim Sardonis
‘Whale Dance’ by Jim Sardonis, July 2019, bronze with dark patina, 16’ x 12’, Randolph, VT. Photo by Lelonie Oatway.

Brief History

Thirty years ago, the sculptor Jim Sardonis of Randolph, Vermont created two large black granite whale tales entitled “Reverence.” This sculpture spent 10 years in Randolph before being sold and moved to Technology Park in South Burlington. Here it remains today. It was originally meant to anchor a sculpture park but that is yet to come about.

Recently the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Community Foundation commissioned Jim to create a larger bronze version. “Whale Dance” was installed in July of 2019 and sits on the same spot where "Reverence" spent its first ten years. As you can see in the photo above, "Whale Dance" is framed by a stunning view of the mountains beyond.


Jim contacted me to remove graffiti. Text in crayon or lipstick pen appeared in two areas each about 10" square. I agreed to address this immediately even thought it was the middle of winter, because graffiti is not only damaging and often ugly, it also encourages more graffiti.



Removal was easy. I applied acetone which removes most paint and other markings from metal without disturbing the patina. Acetone can be used no matter how cold the weather. Luckily the graffiti was not etched which would have required much more work.

It took about a half-hour. After removing the graffiti I applied a dark wax at the artist’s request.


In addition to this work, I also inspected the sculpture.

There are no cracks. About two dozen pits of 1/16" diameter or less appear across the surface. These are not a concern since there's no indication of any penetration below the patina such as green spots or streaks.

There are scuff marks where kids have climbed over the wide lower surfaces.

A light green sheen appears on the surface indicating that weather may be causing slight oxidation. The artist informed me that this is by design. It makes the dark surface feel more organic and alive. This is surprisingly effective and a wonderful treatment I never saw before.

Special Effect on Whale Dance by Jim Sardonis
Scuff marks, pits, and faint green sheen.

The sculpture is embedded in the hillside. The foundation is hidden under the surface of the ground. For additional information about the installation please refer to this fine article at

I recommended signage which is proven to reduce vandalism. I also suggested coating the entire surface with a polymer for added protection which we agreed to do in the future.

As part of my guarantee, I will return to inspect this work annually for free.