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.

Sculpture Restoration in Vermont

‘Untitled’ sculpture by Herbert Baumann 1968
‘Untitled’ by Herbert Baumann 1968

Giving Back

Giving back to the community is important to me. One of my pro bono projects is helping the Vermont State Curator, David Schutz, conserve the 'largest sculpture park in the world'!

'Axe VIII’ sculpture by Bradford Graves 1971
'Axe VIII’ by Bradford Graves 1971

The Story Begins in 1968

The Vermont educator and artist, Paul Aschenbach, gathered fellow sculptors from around the world to join him in the first International Sculpture Symposium in the US in 1968 followed by another in 1971. Sculpture symposia began in 1959 in St. Margarethen, Austria. Artists gathered in Vermont to live and create side-by-side. Supporting these symposia were grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts which matched goods and services provided by two regional industrial benefactors, the Vermont Marble Company (1968) and concrete manufacturer S.T. Griswold & Company (1971).

'Cuarto Torres’ (Four Towers) sculpture by Eduardo Ramirez 1971
'Cuarto Torres’ (Four Towers) by Eduardo Ramirez 1971

Marble and Concrete

Twenty-two sculptures were created during the symposia. Some were sold according to an agreement at the time among the artists, and one was damaged beyond repair during a later relocation effort. The remaining 16 can be viewed at rest areas along 400 miles of Vermont highways I-91 and I-89. Half are marble created in the first symposium and the other half are reinforced cast and applied concrete created in the second symposium. Together they are now known as the ‘Sculpture on the Highway’.

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

My Role

First step is to inspect the condition of each sculpture for a grant proposal David and his team are preparing to submit later this year. The grant seeks resources to conserve the sculptures. Some need to be moved, some need foundations, and all need to be cleaned. Many cracks and chips need restoration and graffiti needs to be removed. The good news is that they're all in remarkably good condition for 50 years old, and with timely and proper attention, they can last another 50 years and beyond.

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

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. Eventually, I found them all.

I created a conditions report and a plan for conservation and on-going maintenance. The goal is not to bring them back to their original condition but rather to delay the natural deterioration for as long as possible. Each sculpture is prioritized according to their need - from most at-risk to least.

‘Untitled’ by Rudolph Uher 1971
Yasuo Mizui sculpture 1968
'Trois Traces' by Yasuo Mizui 1968
Isaac Witkin sculpture 1971
'Untitled' by Isaac Witkin 1971
Carl Floyd sculpture 1971
'Untitled' by Carl Floyd 1971

Conservation Needs

The first priority is to move those that 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 fill cracks since the freeze/thaw cycle of Vermont weather causes the most damage - each year cracks get a bit wider and longer. The third priority is to create a foundation for those that don’t have one. Other needs can wait if necessary, such as chip repair, coating and covering exposed rebar, removing graffiti, signage, and cleaning off moss, dirt, and mold.

Related Projects:

Signage of some kind is an interesting factor. Research shows that some kind of label next to outdoor art reduces vandalism. But signage right next to these works is not recommended in order to honor the original intent. Some of the symposia artists decided that titles and signage impeded the viewers encounter with these monumental artworks. So we'll have to brainstorm on 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 concrete sculpture of ‘Untitled’ by A. Dieter Trantenroth 1971
Cracks in the sculpture are a high priority

Then a pleasant surprise!! The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), our state highway department, got wind of our efforts and offered to help. So, we're now working with VTrans to move sculptures and create foundations. We hope this begins in the fall.

Getting Started

The plan is to move some of the sculptures to high-use rest areas to reduce the risk of vandalism and enable visitors to walk around them. Others will have their current areas cleaned and improved.

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

Grant applications will be submitted in the fall of 2020 with award announcements in the spring of 2021. If we're lucky and all goes as planned, all the work will be completed by the end of 2022, including exciting interpretive programs at rest stops, welcome centers, and websites.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed! These 16 sculptures are an important piece of Vermont history. They hold a unique place in contemporary art as the largest sculpture park in the world. They are works of significance and value that must not be neglected.

Update: August 2019

The niece of one of the artists, Erich Reischke, just contacted me! She read this article and is coming to visit Vermont this fall with her sister and would like to see their uncle's artwork. Very cool! And one of my clients, the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of our US State Dept, has offered to review our conservation plans. CH is a small team of incredibly talented art conservators who travel the world repairing the vast collection of art in our embassies and ambassador residences abroad. They are 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 seems to be a lot of positive energy gathering around this project. The stars are aligned! I'll keep you posted.

Update: October 2019

Our group continues to meet, visit the sites, and plan for their preservation. We're now focused on several grant applications for funding, such as the federal ‘Save America’s Treasures’ grant and a couple 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 are also tracking down the artists that are still alive or the artists' 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 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, several wives, and how shunned he was by his family at first and then later so beloved.

Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke
Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke, nieces of Eric Reische, sitting on one of his sculptures.
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, Peter Ruddick and his friend who drove up from New York City where Peter has an art exhibition. He lives in California.

We spent 3 hours listening to memories of his upbringing during the war in England, his teaching career in Oregon, then at the Pratt Institute in New York City, and then Goddard College in Vermont, and then the symposia that resulted in these sculptures. Each symposium lasting 2 months. He spoke about the artist and theirinfluences such as Louise Bourgeois and especially, for him, Alberto Giacometti.

He supports our plans for signage and foundations for each sculpture. His contribution to ‘Sculpture on the Highway’ was thought to be ‘Untitled’ but we discovered it’s ‘Sextant’. He explained the influences behind it such as 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 or parked at the rest stop. We plan to move this sculpture and Peter enjoyed our suggestion of the Sharon Welcome Center where it will 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 piece 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, so we’re considering ways to mark the occasion. Perhaps another symposium, national and state Historic Register designation, the reconstruction of this piece, and other thrilling 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 South, destroyed years ago in an attempt to move it.
‘Untitled’ sculpture by Karl Prantl
‘Untitled’ by Karl Prantl 1968

Update: August 2020

We received one of the three grants, and are re-applying for the other two. This time around we are 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 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. So we'll be exploring these connections as 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.

Background

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.

Restoration

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’ 2019 by Jim Sardonis, 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 along Interstate 89 North. It remains there 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 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.

Graffiti

Jim contacted me to remove graffiti. Text in crayon or lipstick pen appeared in 2 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.

Graffiti

Treatment

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. I removed the graffiti and applied a dark wax at the artist’s request.

Inspection

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

There are no cracks. Dozens of pits about 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, but no scratched or other damage to the patina.

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 and not a sign of damage. It is a color applied in the patina which 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, and the foundation is hidden under the surface of the ground.

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

Why Coat Bronze

Traditionally bronze sculpture is coated with wax. This protects it from conditions that harm the surface, such as bird droppings, salt air, and acid rain.

I recommend a polymer coating rather than wax for outdoor sculpture. It seals small cracks and pits, and is less expensive to apply and maintain. Most importantly, it lasts as much as 10 years whereas wax lasts less than a year outdoors.

Most conservators now use polymer coatings. This is the strongest recommendation since the conservation industry is quite conservative and not known for using products that are only 30 years in use!

This treatment restores a ‘new’ look which is virtually identical to an original bronze patina. The manufacturer will adjust the degree of satin to match whatever an artist intends.

Plus, 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. It ‘self-anneals’ meaning the new coat infuses with whatever old polymer remains. Anyone with painting skills can do it. Apply by brush or wiping. It ‘self-levels’, meaning it will not streak. Two coats last up to 10 years depending on weather conditions. Polymers are so durable that I offer a 5-year warranty to my clients.

Update – May 2020

My estimate for coating ‘Whale Dance’ was accepted and I plan to do the work this coming fall.

I did several tests of different shades of the satin coating in order to exactly match the finish of the sculpture. The artist joined me to give it his eye as well – we stayed 6′ apart and wore masks following COVID-19 precautions recommended by the Vermont governor.

We agreed on a satin tone that’s half of the usual 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 just shipping a custom batch. The Everbrite company is very responsive to custom orders. They mix and ship the same day.

Our governor, Phil Scott, is slowly opening businesses state-wide. Those with up to 10 employees can reopen as long as customers and employees stay 6′ apart and wear masks. Restaurants, schools, and movie theaters are not yet allowed. My one-person business is good to go.

I plan to apply two coats as recommended, and another two for added protection over the lower sections where kids climb. I’ll inspect yearly for free as I do for all my clients, and I expect the coating to last 7-10 years.

Fountain Restoration in Lisbon

The Holiday Card

In June of 2018, I restored an historic fountain at our embassy in Lisbon. Though pleased with the outcome, I never imagined who else might notice!

In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife visited the embassy. They were so impressed by the fountain that he and his wife chose it for the cover of their holiday card which went out to all State Department employees and contractors.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Will Moser
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Will Moser
The cover of the Pompeo family holiday card 2019
The cover of the Pompeo family holiday card 2019 - notice the face on the left is a detail from the fountain.
Detail of Pompeo Family Holiday Card
Inside of the card
Detail of Pompeo Family Holiday Card
Card cover detail of the Lisbon fountain

Restoration

Decades of iron, calcium, lime and old darkened sealer heavily stained the antique tiles and marble features of the fountain. Plus, the plumbing leaked and the walkway around the fountain, made of white limestone, had darkened with moss and mold.

antique tile
Before restoration

Not knowing the best technique for cleaning antique tile, I sought guidance from one of Portugal’s leading handmade tile manufacturers, Viuva Lamego. Seeing my interpreter and surmising that I did not speak Portuguese, the director turned to me and tapped his teeth!

 

Like Cleaning Teeth

This was my introduction to the fine art of cleaning antique tile. It’s like cleaning teeth, and the best equipment for the job are dental tools. You can scrape the tile with metal and you won’t damage it at all. Just don’t tap or press on the surface or it will crack.

The careful work took several days followed by training for embassy staff so that they can wipe the fountain surfaces once a week to keep it looking fresh.

Detail of Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal by Bob Hannum Detail of Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal by Bob Hannum
Detail of Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal by Bob Hannum Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal
Restored Fountain by Bob Hannum
Finished

History

So, what’s the age of the fountain and who’s the face?

The property was a farm that goes way back: pre-16th century. It is one of the few that survived the great Portuguese earthquake in the early 1700s.

The property was then bought by a rich family who rebuilt and expanded the farm estate in the late 1700s. This is when the handmade tile was added, including what you see on the fountain. So, we know the date of the tile: late 18th century. The marble face and shell may be older.

The US State Dept bought the property in the 1980s, built the embassy, and restored several of the most important buildings. This fountain was moved at that time from another location on the farm. Extensive tile restoration was done at that time, most likely including the sealer that turned black!

Iconography

Here’s what I know about the face. It likely depicts one of two ancient gods, the Roman god of waterways, Oceanus, or the Lusitanian god of fountains, Duberticus.

Oceanus is an oft-depicted figure and face on European fountains. He is the primordial Titan god of the earth-encircling river Okeanos, the source of all the earth’s freshwater – river, well, and rain. He also regulates the heavenly bodies that rise from and set into his waters. His hair and/or ears and/or beard is often depicted with a wavy shell-like or water-like pattern as seen on the ears of this face and the crest of water over his head. Note the shell at the top of the fountain, supporting the idea that we’re looking at a figure associated with water.

Oceanus
Oceanus

The fountain, as with others on this property, was originally connected to an aqueduct system, and parts of the original aqueduct can still be seen on the property. It was fed by a well that is still on the property but now closed. We are proposing to open the well and use it once-again to feed all the fountains.

The face is made of marble as is the shell. The fountain top stones and the surrounding stones of the walkway are limestone which is prevalent throughout Portugal.

 

Neptune and Poseidon

So why isn’t the face Neptune or Poseidon, famous gods of water and oceans? Early on in Greek and Roman mythology, Poseidon and Neptune were distinct. Neptune was associated with freshwater and Poseidon, the sea. At some time in the BC era, Neptune and Poseidon became interchangeable as the god of the sea. When depicted in sculpture Poseidon and Neptune are never without a trident or similar motif, and there's no such image on this fountain.

Poseidon
Poseidon

 

Duberticus

Duberticus is the Lusitanian god of fountains. Lusitanian god worship centered around the area that now includes Lisbon and predates the arrival of the Romans circa 200 BC. There are no known existing images of Duberticus. However, this farm is very old and the fountain is original to the farm. Many Portuguese consider their proud heritage to be Lusitanian, and the Lusitanians fought off Roman rule for decades, so fountains in this area are least likely to depict anything related to Rome. This just may be the only existing depiction of Duberticus!

I just found this interesting related post info from 'VikingWidunder':

Dercetius/Dercetivs is the Lusitanian/Celtiberian deity of the mountains. This name is obviously its Latin equivalent, for the celts and lusitanians seldom left any epigraphic vestiges. When the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula, many deties had their names changed to latin, and so the people still worshiped their ancient gods but with new names and possibly new caracteristics. It is really hard to know the original name of this deity, because the Lusitanian language was celtic in its origins but very different from the Irish, Breton, Gaelic and so on, however, it sounded very similar to the Irish and some words match. The only word that I could find to match with "Dercetius" was the into-European word Derk-e/o, which means "see". It is possible that this deity is associated with seeing into the distance from an high point. He is the god of mountains, hills, summits and all kinds of geographical elevations. Most of the celtic settlements were near a mountain or hill, or actually built on top of an elevation. For the celts, most mountains and hills had a unique deity protecting and living in it, Duberticus for the Celts in the Iberian Peninsula was such a deity of a particular mountain range but also of all the mountains and hills in the land.

Update: May, 2020

I've writen to 'VikingWidunder' in hopes of tracking down his sources on Duberticus so stay tuned!

Also, May is Cultural Heritage Month at the US State Dept. The newsletter featured several restoration projects including two of mine. See the newsletter here: https://statemag.state.gov/2020/05/0520feat03/

Historic Tokyo Bench Restoration

US Ambassador's Residence in Tokyo, Japan
US Ambassador's Residence in Tokyo, Japan

Not for Me

Sometimes my work involves finding others to do it! This project is a good example. It involves the re-creation of 2 outdoor benches from their original 1929 designs - huge, beautiful, and complex pieces.

Even though I’ve made furniture and would love to do it again, and wrangle my favorite and brilliant colleague Al Chapman to join me, this was out of our league because of several daunting tasks such as bending 2” thick wood and Japanese joinery. So, we decided to pass on this one. Thus, my task was to find very special craftspeople.

History of the Benches

In 1929 the American architects Antonin Raymond, the father of modern Japanese architecture, and Harold Van Burren Magonigle designed the US ambassador’s residence in Tokyo. This is one of America’s most historic buildings. It is the first ambassador's residence built by the US government. Even more significantly, it is where Emperor Hirohito met General MacArthur shortly following World War II to renounce his divinity, forever changing the geopolitics of Japan and the world.

Completed in 1931, the residence stands as a marvelous example of early Japanese-American design with Moorish and Oriental influences.

The construction of the residence was a unique collaboration of American architects and Japanese builders. The design included two gardens each featuring a large wood bench.

Original 1929 Architectural Drawing Showing Bench Design
                                                                   Original 1929 Architectural Drawing Showing Bench Design

Over the past several years the residence and gardens were meticulously restored to their original beauty. The restoration of the benches is the final and most important part of this project. The benches are prominently located in gardens often used by the ambassador for special occasions. The original benches deteriorated by the 1960’s and were replaced by concrete seats.

As concrete, the benches are cold, stark, and uninviting objects within the warm and colorful gardens. Restoring the original benches will finally return both gardens to their original beauty, and reclaim their status as centerpieces in spaces frequently used for diplomatic events.

Original Half Circle Bench
                                                                                                  Original Half Circle Bench

Existing Half Circle Bench
                                                                                                   Existing Half Circle Bench

Unique Collaboration

My task here was not only to find uniquely experienced craftspeople, but also design an exciting proposal to attract donors. I estimated the price tag for this project to be about 100K. Sounds like a lot, but this includes research, shipping, and painting. Yes, painting. The original benches were painted and this project calls for strict matching of the original. Further research will reveal the original colors.

My team at the Office of Cultural Heritage suggested some kind of Japanese-American team to honor the original partnership - Americans designed the property and Japanese craftspeople built it, including the benches.

So, the adventure began finding the right people from two different countries willing to bid on this project and work together!

Miraculously, a woodworker sent me a message about another project I’d written about here on my website - see ‘Dusting the Buddha’ - and mentioned his experience with Japanese construction techniques. I asked him to look at this project. Then another miracle! He works with an extraordinary Japanese craftperson, and together they've achieved wide acclaim in over 40 years of collaboration. Their high-profile projects include some of the most famous oriental structures in Japan and the US.

Unique Proposal

I’d found the perfect team, and they presented a fabulous proposal to blend old and new in the spirit of the original architects. They proposed to apply the finest traditional furniture-making techniques with modern durable materials. The result will be an exact match of the original design lasting maintenance-free for many decades.

There is another benefit of this collaboration: it is actually less expensive to utilize US labor and materials even adding shipping, compared to the costs of Japanese labor and materials.

Peter Wechsler will construct the benches in his workshop in Maryland and then ship them in pieces to Tokyo. There his colleague Hatsuo Kanomata will assemble, install, and paint them.

Kanomata and bob
                                          Master Craftsmen Peter Wechsler (left) and Hatsuo Kanomata - a 40-Year Collaboration

Exacting Specifications

Both benches will be fabricated as per the original drawings. The semicircular bench will have five sections, and the other curving bench three. Materials and construction methods will be chosen for maximum durability.

The end pieces and legs will utilize Bruynzeel Oukume plywood - a high quality certified marine grade plywood used in high-end boat construction for its extreme weather resistance and durability.

The ornamental cut-outs found on both benches will be achieved by a CNC machine.

Facade of the Residence
       Detail on the facade of the residence repeated on both benches - this may be a stylized gingko leaf since the largest                                                                                         gingko tree in Japan is located on the property

All the glue used will be the highest-grade marine epoxy and all screws stainless steel. All screw holes will be countersunk and plugged.

Wood dimensions for the seats and backs will be 2” thick and laminated out of Port Orford cedar.

Three decorative wood squares on the back and front of each 5’ section will be applied with epoxy.

All the vertical and horizontal pieces supporting the seats and seat-backs will also be cedar. Following traditional furniture-building techniques, they will be mortised and tenoned into place.

It's Begun!

The project was approved. Funds have been found. Peter and Hatsuo plan to complete the project in 2021.

Sculpture Restoration at Becton, Dickinson and Company

Thirty-Year-Old Sculpture

Michael_Singer_Becton_Interior_Atria_Gardens-6From March 1 thru 11, 2019, my son William and I restored a 30-year-old in-ground sculpture entitled "Atrium Garden" by Michael Singer. It took us 11 long days. It’s now good for another 30 years!

I was also part of the team that originally installed it in the world headquarters of Becton, Dickinson and Company.

After 30 years this sculpture of pine and stone needed serious TLC.

The original construction was comprised of wood units made of 2x4’s enclosed with ½’’ plywood.

 

 

Why PT Was Not Originally Used

Pressure treated wood (PT) products first became popular in the 70's, but by the mid-80's when we constructed this sculpture, research indicated that the chemicals used were too toxic for indoor use. It wasn’t until the 90’s that safer chemicals were used in the production of PT products. Thus, when we built this sculpture we decided not to use PT. Instead, we coated the outside plywood with tar and plastic as a safe and effective alternative for protecting the wood from contact with plant irrigation and moist soil.

It held up well but after 30 years the plastic had eroded in many places and the ply had rotted. The rot was so extensive that in many places only a sheet of tar remained. The plywood on the visible sides of the sculpture was coated with glue and dirt to give the impression of dirt walls as in an excavation. These were in good shape except for the bottom 2" or so where moist dirt created rot. Most of the supporting 2x4’s were pock-marked with rot.

Each hole is about five and a half feet deep with a concrete floor that we covered with dirt to look like an excavation. Under the plants are about a foot of gravel and topsoil. Filling the remaining space between the floor and the soil were layers of thick 4” rigid foam.

Interestingly, we expected to find small lizards and spiders which we spotted at times during the yearly maintenance visits throughout the past years. We encountered none.

A Dirty Job

The contents of each hole were removed - wood structures and large stones. A manual crane was used to remove the stones which were too heavy to lift by hand. Each structure was rebuilt with pressure-treated plywood. Outdoor-grade latex paint and 35-year latex caulk were applied to the seams and bare wood to match the color of the surrounding dirt. Outdoor-grade decking screws were used at all times.

Then each ‘dirt wall’ made of plywood and 2x4’s was removed and rebuilt. Old ply and 2x4’s were replaced with PT. Sheets of thick plastic were placed as a barrier between the dirt and plants and the new structures. Finally, the wood and stone elements were placed back into their holes.

Challenges

The long days were due to the challenges presented by our location. We stayed at a comfortable hotel only 10 minutes away from the BD campus. We started each day leisurely with a nice hot breakfast and drive over to BD in William’s truck by 10 am each morning. We estimated 16 days for this project if we worked straight thru with no days off. We couldn’t make loud noise from hammers, saws, or vacuums during business hours. So, we used this time to purchase supplies and prepare everything we needed so that once 6 pm arrived we were ready for a loud and intense 3 or 4 more hours of work.

Keeping It Safe

Because employees were working and walking near us throughout each day, we were very careful to keep our worksite clean and organized and surrounded by safety cones and air filters to maintain a safe, healthy, and productive work environment for ourselves and BD employees. The polished granite and marble floors surrounding the sculpture were protected at all times with moving blankets and thick plastic sheet. And of course, we had to watch our language when faced with the occasional frustrating moment!

About BD

BD is the world’s largest producer of medical supplies. Their many inventions include the syringe, thermometer, ace bandage, and the black leather doctor’s bag. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, BD employs nearly 50,000 people in more than 50 countries throughout the world. The founders, Maxwell Becton and Fairleigh Dickinson were also collectors of art. In 1986 work began to create a new campus in Franklin Lakes, NJ. New buildings would feature large work spaces with natural light and beautiful art.

Award-Winning Architecture

The architects Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood envisioned a Tuscan villa-style design with stately buildings set among rolling hills made of mahogany, polished stone, and copper. Their design achieved every major architectural award. The chief architect, Michael McKinnell, placed large atriums within each building and commissioned the sculptor Michael Singer to create 2 large indoor sculptures and another large outdoor one. Singer and McKinnell became friends and collaborated on subsequent artworks and architectural designs.

Lost Energy

After about the sixth long and hard day, we’d had it! My son William and I were a bit down and out with no end in sight. So, we called in our friend Al Chapman to lift our spirits and lighten our load. He was just what we needed! Over the next 3 days his skill, energy, and good humor got us all back on track. Suddenly, the project was almost finished and we were ecstatic!

Art Restoration in Manila

Reviving a 'Lost' Artwork

First, Saving Hands and Feet

Two years ago I was sent out to our Ambassador's residence in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to do some work on an unusual tile artwork embedded in the large swimming pool in the back yard.

This work of art was created by the Picasso of the Philippines, Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981), in the early 60's when the pool was constructed. Though he is quite famous in the Philippines, no one seems to be aware of this unusual work of art except our embassy and our Office of Cultural Heritage team.

Manansala pool tile repair in ManilaThe Initial Work

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 the embassy mason, Delmar. 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.

Update: May, 2020

Back to Manila!

Manansala Pool Tile artworkThere is another problem with this artwork besides the sharp edges. Some tiles deteriorated and were replaced without matching the original colors or shapes. About 90 tiles were replaced. The photo on the right indicates replaced tiles - the ones with red dots. Luckily, replacement tile is all one distinct gray color, so it's easy to spot the replacements. The original shapes were not as easy to determine - I had to study his artwork with similar elements to figure this out with certainty.

The Director of the Office of Cultural Heritage decided to not only restore this important and unusual artwork, but also track down relatives, Filipino cultural officials, and museum directors to plan a special dedication when the restoration is finished. This is an unusual work of art by a renown Filipino artist, so I anticipate interest outside of the family and the State Dept.

I was selected to lead this effort and spent a portion of the last year researching this piece to restore the original shapes and colors. That completed, I located a handmade tile manufacturer in Lisbon, Portugal to match the colors. That company, Viuva Lamego, completed the order and shipped the tile to Manila where it is awaiting my return.

I'll bring a special tile cutting tool that enables one to cut curves in tile. I suspect that the lack of this tool may have been the reason the original tile shapes were not previously matched. I plan to show the mason how to use this piece of equipment and then leave it for him so that he can do future tile replacement as needed and maintain this valuable artwork.

Pool Tile Artwork by Vicente ManansalaThe artwork is so large that no photo exists showing the entire piece. During my next trip I'll find a photographer to take drone overhead photos.

I located 2 granddaughters of the artist. One is an expert on her grandfather's artwork. I continue to follow leads and hope to locate many more interested parties.

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic allows me to travel, I will return, hopefully by the fall or winter of this year.

The US Dept of State May newsletter features cultural heritage projects including 2 of mine! Take a look.

Installation at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

'Ritual Series 2018' by Michael SingerExhibition

My son William and I installed a new sculpture by Michael Singer entitled Ritual Series 2018 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City for their 2019 Invitational Exhibition.

This annual one-month event features contemporary artists from around the United States. This year's exhibit - March 7 to April 7, 2019 - featured 35 artists. Following the exhibit, nine received top awards. Award winners continued to exhibit for two more months and add one or two more artworks. This is considered the most prestigious award for visual art in the United States.

Installation

This sculpture by Mr. Singer is made of granite, copper foiled pine wood, cast aluminum, field stone, dirt-coated plywood, and copper leaf.

Michael Singer

A major element of all his sculpture is that horizontal pieces are level and verticals are plumb. The effect is a sense of calm and for me personally (and also from the comments of others) a sense that the entire piece is weightless, floating, and even otherworldly. Thus, great care is taken to place each and every piece of his sculpture precisely.

The gallery space is located at the Academy's Manhattan headquarters. It is the most beautiful exhibition space I have ever seen with antique tile floor and a ceiling made entirely of a glass skylight!

The installation took us 3 days.

Installation of 'Ritual Series 2018' by Michael SingerAwards

I'm pleased and honored to report that Michael was one of the top award recipients. His work of over 50 years - sculpture, drawings, architecture, and environmental design - so deserves it. See his wonderful artwork here. And for more details of the award click here.

seal of the American Academy of arts and LettersAmerican Academy of Arts and Letters

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Charter members include William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, Daniel Chester French, Childe Hassam, Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Vedder, and Woodrow Wilson. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.

In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country.

Below are more works by Mr. Singer.