Author Archives: Bob Hannum

About Bob Hannum

Bob is celebrating 40 years assisting artists, museums, collectors, corporations and our State Department with the installation, exhibition, repair and maintenance of sculpture.

Sculpture on the Highway

road sculpture
‘Untitled’ by Herbert Baumann 1968

Giving Back

Some of my work is giving back to my community.

One of my pro bono projects is helping the Vermont State Curator, David Schutz, conserve the 'largest sculpture park in the world'!

VERMONT STONE
'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 two symposia held in 1968 and 1971. Eleven sculptors gathered to live and create art side-by-side. Supporting these symposia were grants from the Vermont Council on the Arts 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).

MARBLE AND CONCRETE
'Cuarto Torres’ (Four Towers) by Eduardo Ramirez 1971

Marble and Concrete

22 sculptures were created during these 2 symposia. Some were sold as was the agreement at the time among the artists involved and 1 was damaged beyond repair during a later relocation effort. The remaining 16 were installed 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 or 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

I volunteered 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 repair 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 all last another 50 years and beyond.

'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.

'Untitled by Minoru Niizuma 1968

I wrote up the conditions of each 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

Conservation Needs

The first priority is to move those that are too close to a roadway, or in a location susceptible to vandalism or graffiti, 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 will do the most damage - each year those cracks will get wider and longer. The third most important 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.

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. 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.

cracks in stone
Cracks in the sculptures are a high priority

Then a miracle happened! The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), our state highway department, got wind of our efforts and offered to help. So, we are now working with VTrans to move and create foundations for those that need it which we hope begins this fall.

‘Untitled’ by A. Dieter Trantenroth 1971

Getting Started

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

‘Untitled’ by Erich Reischke 1968

Grant applications will be submitted this fall with awards announced in the spring of 2020. If we're lucky and all goes as planned, the rest of the work will be completed next year including exciting interpretive programs at our rest stops and welcome centers and websites!

‘Untitled’ by Paul Aschenbach 1971
‘Untitled’ by Paul Aschenbach 1971

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 and would like to see her uncle's artwork. Very cool! And one of my clients, the Office of Cultural Heritage of our US State Dept, has offered to review our grant proposals and conservation plans. They are 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 over their generous offer of their valuable time on this project!

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.

‘Untitled’ by Karl Prantl 1968
‘Untitled’ by Karl Prantl 1968

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 the work! 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 involving the daunting tasks of bending 2” thick wood and Japanese joinery. So, we decided to pass on this one. Thus, my task in this project was to find a very special team of 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 not only as the first structure built by the US government as an ambassador’s residence but also as the place 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 which included a backyard garden featuring 2 large wood benches.

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

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

As concrete, the benches are lost as cold, stark, and uninviting objects within a warm, colorful, and oft-used garden landscape. 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 would include research, shipping and painting. Yes, painting. The original benches were painted and the project called for strict matching of the original. Further research would have to be done to discover the original colors.

My team at the Office of Cultural Heritage in our State Department - we care for all the art in our embassies and ambassador residences - 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 2 different countries willing to bid on this project!

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 and, another miracle, he asked if he could do this with his Japanese counterpart whom he had worked with for over 40 years. Together they had achieved wide acclaim for their exacting skills and high-profile projects, among them 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 and their bench design, applying 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 50 years.

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 in 5’ sections as per the original drawings. The semicircular bench will have five sections, and the other curving bench three, with different radii matching the original drawings. 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 Found on the Property

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

Wood dimensions for the seats and backs will be 2” thick as per the original design. They will be laminated out of Port Orford cedar for maximum durability.

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

All the vertical and horizontal pieces supporting the seat and seat-back will also be cedar for maximum durability matching the photos and original drawings. Following traditional furniture-building techniques, they will be mortised and tenoned into place.

It’s Begun!

The project was just approved. Funds have been found. Peter and Hatsuo start the project in early 2020 and finish by that fall.

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 and I restored a 30-year-old in-ground sculpture, Atrium Garden, by Michael Singer. It took us 11 long days. It’s now good for another 30 years!

Back 30 years ago I was part of the team that installed it.

After 30 years this sculpture of pine and stone needed some serious TLC. The original construction as shown in the photo above was comprised of wood units made of 2x4’s enclosed with ½’’ plywood.

Why PT Was Not Originally Used

Pressure treated wood products had become popular since the 1970s but by the mid-’80s when we constructed this sculpture, research indicated that the chemicals used were too toxic for indoor application. It wasn’t until the 90’s that safer chemicals were used in the production of PT products. So when we built this sculpture we decided not to use PT. Instead, we coated the outside ply with tar and plastic as a safe 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 sheets of ply on the other side of each structure and visible on the inside of each ‘hole’ were coated with glue and dirt to give the impressions of a dirt excavation. These were in good shape except for the bottom of each one where moist dirt created rot. Most of the 2x4’s were pock-marked with rot.

Related Projects:

Each hole is about 5 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. Fulling all the remaining space between the concrete 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 1½ year scheduled 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 most of these stones which were too heavy to lift by hand. Each structure was reconditioned with pressure-treated (PT) wood. Outdoor-grade latex paint and 35-year latex caulking were applied to the seams and bare wood to match the color of the surrounding dirt hole. Outdoor-grade decking screws were used at all times.

Then each ‘dirt wall’ made of plywood and 2x4’s was removed and reconditioned. 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 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 non-pharmaceutical medical supplies. Their many inventions include the syringe, the 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, McKinnell placed large atriums within each building and commissioned the sculptor Michael Singer to create 2 large indoor sculptures and another large outdoor one for each space. Singer and McKinnell became friends and collaborated on subsequent artworks and architectural designs.

Losing 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 all ecstatic!

Installation at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Singer-Instalation-2019-arts-management2Just installed a new sculpture by Michael Singer at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City for their 2019 Invitational Exhibition.

This one-month event March 7 to April 7, 2019 presents the work of 35 artists from around the US. 7 will be awarded, following the exhibition. Awarded artists will continue to exhibit for 2 more months and add one or 2 more works. This is the highest award for visual artists in the US. Keep your fingers crossed as I believe Singer’s work soooo deserves this award.

I was assisted in this 1-week installation by my son William. The artwork is granite, copper foiled pine wood, cast aluminum, field stone, and copper leaf. Horizontals are level and verticals are plumb giving an otherworldly and floating sense to the sculpture.

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!

 

 

Singer Sculpture Installation 1

Singer sculpture install 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singer sculpture install 4

 

An American Eagle in Havana

Bronze American Eagle in Havana

My trip to Havana was the most fascinating to date! I was sent by the Cultural Heritage Office of our State Dept to wax a large bronze eagle with an amazing history. I was there for just a week, and it was the most alien place I’ve ever visited!

Cars in Havana Cuba

The roads are dominated by cars from the ’50’s and 60’s, and most looking like new! The people are genuinely kind and friendly even to Americans and even though the Cuban economy must be very difficult to live in!

Though Cuban citizens have free education, medical care and retirement with no visible poverty, drug problem or prostitution, the $35 per month salary lasts about half the month. Everyone gets the same pay whether you’re a neurosurgeon or a hotel housekeeper. What makes it work is a robust black market and ‘remittances.’

Here’s how it works as told to me by a local resident. She works at the local water department. Each week she brings home a 5-gallon jug of spring water. It’s not considered stealing but it is controlled – she can’t take more. Her neighbor works at the local bakery and likewise brings home several loaves of bread at the end of his work week. Other neighbors have other items. Each neighbor knows who has what, and so they all barter their goods and services.

Remittances refers to money that US and other foreign relatives send to their families in Cuba each month supplementing nearly every Cuban household with an extra hundred dollars or two. This seems to make ends meet and people seem genuinely unstressed about it, though I noticed a lack of efficiency at the airport as my colleague and I waited an hour for our bags. Fascinating.

Equally fascinating is the story of the bronze eagle I went to work on.

The story begins in 1898 when the USS Maine, an American naval ship, exploded and sank in Havana Harbor. The event led to the Spanish-American War and the end of Spanish rule in Cuba. “Remember the Maine’ became a famous battle cry.

USS Maine

USS Maine in Havana Harbor

The explosion killed 260 of the Maine’s 400 sailors. What caused the explosion remains a mystery. Some say the ship hit a Spanish mine. Others say Cubans did it to draw the US into helping them expel their Spanish occupiers. Others maintain that powerful US business interests had a hand in it, to open up the island to business development. Still others say the munitions in the ship accidentally exploded.

The war lasted 4 months resulting in Cuban independence.

A grateful Cuban government commissioned a monument to honor those who died in the explosion. It was dedicated in 1926 and located on the harbor. Within a few months a hurricane blew the bronze eagle off the top. It fell to the ground and broke apart. A new bronze eagle was commissioned with a more aerodynamic design – upraised wings instead of flat – to withstand future storms.

Maine monument with original eagle

Monument with the original bronze eagle – note the flat outstretched wings.

 

Maine Monument

Second eagle – note the different wing design

The original eagle disappeared.

In 1959, the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro, ousted the authoritarian government of Batista and US supporters and business interests. The second eagle was torn down from the top of the monument in 1961 around the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The body and wings are displayed in the Havana City History Museum. The museum exhibit and empty monument stand today as symbols of Cuba’s resistance to ‘American Imperialism.’ Interestingly, the head was somehow acquired by the Swiss government which was appointed the caretaker of the US Embassy and ambassador’s residence when the US was ousted by Castro. The Swiss presented the bronze eagle head to the returning US Ambassador when relations warmed in 2014. It is now displayed in the US Embassy in Havana.

Maine Monument on Havana Harbor

The monument as it appears today

Meanwhile, the first eagle mysteriously reappeared!

In 1954 it was presented to the US Ambassador in Havana by a group of Cuban and American business people “…who saw in its indestructibility a symbol of the enduring friendship between their countries.” Then in 2011, the US State Department commissioned Milner + Carr Conservation, LLC of Philadelphia – now Materials Conservation Collaborative – to repair the original cracks caused by its hurricane tumble in 1926. It is now displayed in the back yard of the ambassador’s residence.

Waxing a bronze sculpture

Havana Eagle Signage

I was asked to inspect the conservation work and do a thorough waxing. It’s in good condition with some rusting underneath the feet of the eagle. I used butcher paste wax since the preferred product, carnauba wax, is not available in Havana and difficult to ship. Cleaning and waxing took 1 long day. I’ll be back in the near future to coat it with the longer-lasting Everbrite polymer I’m now using on all our outdoor metal sculptures.

 

 

American Eagle in Cuba

I’d like to call your attention to a fascinating response from a reader. Well, not just any reader! Her father was the US Ambassador to Cuba (Ambassador Willard L. Beaulac) from 1951 to 1953. Ms. Beaulac Zachor shares wonderful memories of Havana. I quote her generous comments with her gracious permission. A truly wonderful read!

The lovely bronze statue was snuggled up against a back wall of the residence and surrounded by enough greenery as to render the small area around him a private, shady spot where I sometimes sat for hours, enjoying the most pleasant reading experiences of my 80 years. From the photos above I can see that he’s been moved from that leafy and cozy location to an open, sunny spot of clipped hedges and hard-surfaced paths.

When next we have a US ambassador with children living at our residence in Havana, I hope the children will enjoy the presence of this beautiful bird in their garden as much as I did.

Thank you, Bob Hannum, for giving our dear eagle the care that is needed to preserve his splendid appearance, and for writing this article.
Joan Beaulac Zachor

October 2, 2018

Dear Ms. Beaulac Zachor,
Thank you immensely for sharing your recollections on my website. Beautifully told. Please please tell me more and may I add your words to my article? May I mention your name? I will not reveal where you live, for your security and privacy.
I would just love to hear more about your recollections of Havana and of your father’s work there. Do you retain any connections to Cuba after all this time? Have you ever returned?
Interestingly, I was so taken by the beauty of the residence and the grounds and the kindness of the local people who take great pride in caring for it, that I asked to stay there instead of a hotel next time I return and to my surprise and delight that was approved. But alas it will be a while before I get back given our present administration and the alarming sonic experiences of several American visitors and employees last fall.
The local people that I met were just wonderful to me – I was very surprised. As a contractor for the State Dept I am briefed before traveling to difficult places. So I went to Havana full of warnings and cautionary tales as you can imagine. But my experience was nothing but warm and friendly and safe.
I was fascinated by the day-to-day economics of barter and remittances and store shelves stocked with only a few items at a time. The strangest part of it is that it all seemed to work! People did not seem unhappy in general unless I was misreading.
So please take a moment when you can to share more of anything you remember about that time.
All the best,
Bob
October 9. 2018
Dear Mr. Hannum,
Thank you for your kind words about my note. I so enjoyed your article about attending to our beautiful eagle at the embassy and happy that you included a photo of him on the monument to the Maine, his first perch in Havana. I would be flattered if you added what I wrote in response. I’ve attached a few words here about my Havana of 65 years ago. I haven’t returned for a visit but I would love to.I agree that our residence and gardens in Havana are beautiful. I don’t suppose I have much to add about the residence that might interest you. But I can tell a little about living there, from a young girl’s perspective, that you might enjoy.

Like most of the grand houses in Country Club Park the residence had (almost) no air conditioning in the early fifties when we lived there. Its thick walls of Jaimanita stone and deep porches kept it well protected from the tropical sun, and its great tall windows and doors allowed the breezes through when opened. At some time air conditioning had been added to some of the larger upstairs rooms. My mother turned hers on from time to time and put on a sweater but it looked a little silly.

My sister, Noël, and I would catch little drifts of music at night through our open bedroom windows from an area with lively nightlife a mile or two away that would have been fun to visit. But young daughters of diplomats didn’t. Some nights I’d curl up on a couch in the first floor library (my favorite room with shelves and shelves of books) and nudge the needle back and forth across the dial of our Grundig radio catching bits of news or music from Miami. We’d not been able to tune in to US stations from Paraguay or Colombia where we’d lived before, and now in Havana, it was a happy treat when a station came through for long enough to play an entire song. I fell in love with the voice of Nat King Cole.

A wide hallway with cork flooring ran the length of the upstairs. It muffled the sound of our footsteps when we wore shoes and felt lovely — almost cozy–under our bare feet. At one end of the hallway, near my mother’s room, was an elevator and at the other end was a suite that we called “the presidential suite.” The story told was that the elevator was included when the residence was constructed in 1941 with the expectation that President Roosevelt would be visiting from time to time. And the presidential suite had been tailored to accommodate his wheelchair. President Roosevelt died four years after the residence was completed and never did visit there, but our house guests enjoyed hearing that they were staying in his suite. Unhappily for my mother, my sister and I used to tease her by forcing open the outer doors of the president’s elevator trapping her between floors. She bore it well.

Havana is in the tropics and there were a good number of bugs inside the house and outside. I visited the principal kitchen only twice. By day it was a lovely, busy space with Chef Sylvester reigning over his space in a marvelous hat that had to be a foot tall, while his second in command, Luís, in a less imposing hat, attended to beautiful vegetables laid out on large tables. A couple others who might have been staff or grocers looked quite pleased to be doing whatever it was they were doing, and curious to know why we were there. The second time I visited the kitchen was at night. Dark shiny creatures scurried across the floor when we turned on the lights, and disappeared into cracks and small spaces. The huge refrigerators were secured with padlocks so that enjoying a bit of ice cream or leftover soufflé at bedtime was an impossible dream.

Across the hallway from our bedroom (I shared a bedroom with Noël) was a wide open room, and broad balcony overlooking the simplest and prettiest part of the garden. This room was where we ate our breakfast. Our orange juice most often arrived from the kitchen with a barely visible number of minuscule ants trailing up the side of the glass and a few floating inside. It was nearly impossible to scoop them out. They were so, so very small that we simply drank our juice, tiny floating beings and all. Sometimes at night, my sister and I would turn on the lights in the pool and go swimming. We’d run on tiptoes down the path from the house trying to avoid the creatures that gathered on the warm surface after sundown. Occasionally a scorpion, but always tarantulas would fall into the pool at night, and they’d end up trapped in the gutter that ran around the edge of the pool. We’d grab onto the gutter after swimming across the pool or swimming underwater, but never were bitten.

At the rear of the property, behind a wall of tall hedge, was a good-sized kitchen garden where there was always something one could pick from a tree or bush or pull from the ground to nibble on, even if it was just a green onion. Our avocado trees were too beautiful to conceal behind a hedge and were planted in the landscaped portion of the garden. At Christmas the household servants would dig a pit in a corner of the kitchen garden and take most of a day to roast an entire pig there. Our family didn’t join in the pig roast but my parents engaged in gift-giving for the household and their children each year, at a gathering inside, around our Christmas tree.

Country Club Park was at a higher elevation than its surrounding neighborhoods. On Sunday mornings the family attended mass in a small church at the bottom of the hill, and we’d ride down in our family-owned non-limousine with my father at the wheel. He was a terrible driver and my mother would come close to hysterics as he hurtled toward a tiny, single-lane bridge near the bottom of the hill. He’d still be chuckling as he parked our ‘52 Buick Dynaflow and got out. Inside, on summery mornings, the church felt quite pleasant as everyone settled into their pews. Then the air would get warmer while the church got fuller, the men’s guayaberas would wilt damply, and the señoras would fan themselves vigorously. The sound of the fans striking their bosoms was quite wonderful.

My siblings and I attended Ruston Academy, a school that offered a choice of programs in English or Spanish, geared to those students who would be attending college in the US and those who would attend university in Cuba. The English classes were housed in a wonderful, slightly worn colonial building with two somewhat weathered courtyards and a long, open porch along one side of the building where we sat at long tables for lunch and study hall periods.  School dances took place in the larger courtyard, and chairs were set up along the perimeter for the Cuban chaperones who sat fanning themselves all evening while watching us dance with an eagle eye. The smaller courtyard had a fountain and a coin-operated coke machine. My sister and I had seen our first coin-operated coke machine on a dock in New York city when we’d arrived there by ship three years earlier, when a very ugly revolution had broken out in Colombia, and I was delighted that we had a machine just like it at school. I loved those ice-cold cokes in their thick glass bottles. (Yes, I’m that old.)

One morning during out first year in Havana, we learned at breakfast that Radio Reloj (a radio station that seemed always to be broadcasting the latest news and time of day somewhere in the back rooms of the residence) had reported that a revolution had occurred just before dawn. Cuba’s new president, Fulgencio Batista, had seized power without anyone firing a shot. Batista was already a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, but he was expected to lose. He chose not to wait for the people’s vote. Rumour had it that Batista woke the highest fellow in the military holding a gun to his head and demanded “Who is your generalísimo?” and the frightened fellow, still in pajamas, replied, “You are, my general.” And so the matter was settled. The newly ex-president, Carlos Prío Socarrás, was escorted to Miami a few days later. I don’t know if that’s exactly the way Batista pulled it off, but as revolutions go, it was a pretty boring coup. Rubén “Papo” Batista, son of the new president, didn’t learn that his father was president (second or third time around, depending on how you count Batista’s terms in power) until he heard it at Ruston later that morning.

In 1960, a year after Castro’s revolution, Dr. James Baker, headmaster of Ruston Academy in Havana, joined with Monsignor Bryan Walsh in Miami in hatching “Operation Peter Pan,” a secret plan that assisted over 14,000 unaccompanied children to flee Cuba. Castro’s revolutionary government had announced that the state would take legal control of children over the age of three for purposes of education and indoctrination and many parents who couldn’t leave Cuba, themselves, were frantic to get their children off the island. Dr. Baker delivered special visas and sometimes forged documents to families and helped them ship their children to Miami. Most of the Pedro Pan children were eventually reunited with their parents in the United States, but some parents never were able to leave Cuba. The Operation Pedro Pan Group maintains a database and network where Peter Pan adults are able to stay in touch and leave messages to others in their group or with family members. There is a description of Operation Peter Pan at Pedro_Pan_1960

I was happy to have a brief correspondence with Jim Baker in his later years. Although the Castro government had closed his beloved school in 1961, he wrote to me in 1999, that he was still planning for “a new Ruston Academy in the post-Castro era that will build a new, more democratic Cuba.” Jim was 92 years old at the time. His son, Chris, created a website for our Ruston Academy family, many of whom have kept in touch with each other, and a Ruston reunion, here in the US, is still held every few years.

Although Batista’s revolution of 1952 was less than exciting in my 13-year-old opinion, and although my sister and I were forbidden to attend Havana’s famous casinos and night clubs, a few experiences stand out in my memory, not as being extraordinary, but as interesting to me at the time: The first was the opening of a Five and Dime store downtown. It had the first escalator in the country, and crowds of enthusiastic people lined up on the first few days to ride on that marvelous moving stairway. People laughed and chatted their way up and down the stairway and I don’t think anyone rode it only once. We also attended a performance of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus when it traveled to Cuba, and I was thrilled to be offered a morsel of bread by Emmett Kelly, a sad-faced clown that my mother had told me was the very best and most original clown in the world with his tragic face and gloomy behavior. I was so taken with his lovely gloominess that I don’t remember any of the acts. And we rode the roller coaster on opening day of an amusement park that was reportedly financed by Lucky Luciano (it was no secret that US gangsters financed most of the hotels, clubs, and other entertainment in Havana, including the just opened amusement park). I hadn’t ever ridden a roller coaster before, and I was terrified when it began its ascent a second time without allowing its passengers to get off. I was terrified that Mr. Luciano had been careless about the safety of the rides, that the contraption was defective, and that I was going to be killed by a gangster who didn’t care who lived or died.

Taking my first sip of banana liqueur in the courtyard of a centuries-old convent, buying coco glacé (coconut ice cream in a coconut shell) on the Malecón, ordering stuffed avocado upstairs at the American Club in Havana’s historic section, and eating more than my share of Moro crab claws at cocktail parties at home are my happiest food memories. My nose memories are the smell of leather and alligator hides at the leather shop, the smell of chocolate at the H. Upmann cigar factory where women sat wrapping the very best, supple tobacco leaves around rolls of filler tobacco, and the tiny bottles of French fragrances that my mother bought at the Perfume Factory where sales were transacted in the open under a heavy thatched roof held up, so it seemed, by the tallest, most beautiful Royal Palms I’d ever seen.

A comment on the US Embassy office building downtown. We visited the embassy a number of times when it was being constructed. Each time my father would shake his head and mutter “Dear, dear. Dear, dear.” At least half of the outside surface was glass, and when finished would be the most modern building in Havana. The building was nicely situated near the Malecón, Havana’s beautiful oceanfront walk. There was a single small balcony, protected by bullet-proof glass, jutting out from my father’s office on the fifth floor. Except for my father’s exit onto his balcony and the entrances on the first floor, the building was enclosed by windows that were sealed shut, and the sun shone through those windows all day. Once the offices were occupied, the air conditioning wasn’t able to keep up with all that tropical sunshine. The building had to be evacuated whenever indoor temperatures became unbearable. The situation would prompt my father to mutter, “Those damned New York architects. Did they even visit Cuba?”

You asked about my father’s work. I imagine my father’s efforts in Cuba were largely directed at working with whomever was president or dictator to maintain a political climate that was stable and favorable to the operation of US owned businesses, and to trade, and to travel between the two countries. US investments and profits in Cuba were important to both, involving sugar production, manufacturing, transportation, communications, hotels, and entertainment. The only conversation I ever had with my father about Cuba’s politics and his role there, was my naive complaint that our government recognized Batista’s government too quickly after his illegitimate ascent to power. Of course my father was simply following instructions to protect US interests, and the decision to recognize Batista’s coup would not have been his to make, anyway.

My father used to say that both parties should come away from a negotiation feeling that they have achieved some measure of success. I include a link to my father’s record of a conversation with President Prío Socarás a few months after we arrived in Havana. It might give you an idea of how he worked. Amb. Beaulac – Pres. Prío Socarás

I’ve enjoyed your accounts of working for the state department repairing and restoring sculptures and other artwork around the world. What an interesting time you’ve had! If you do return to Havana and stay at the residence, I hope you’ll take some photos to share, and give my eagle a hug from an old friend.

My name is Joan Beaulac Zachor, and my sister to whom I refer is Noël Beaulac Peters. I wrote this recollection for her as well as for you. (I have another sister and a brother who are much younger and have their own memories of countries where my father served later on).

April 1, 2019

Dear Ms. Zachor,
I finally updated my story of the Havana eagle with all your wonderful recollections. Just want to thank you again for so generously sharing these wonderful memories. I too was struck by the tarantulas and lucky for us both, only visually!

So should any more memories arise or if you come across any photos, please please once again consider sharing them with me!

All the best,
Bob

April 3, 2019

Dear Mr. Hannum,
I’ve enjoyed corresponding with you. I hope you get back to Havana and have a lovely stay at the embassy residence. If, when you step out of the elevator, on the second floor you turn left and walk midway down the hall, the room on the left was my bedroom. If you continue to the end of the formal section of the hallway and then left again into your rooms,
you’ll be in what we called the presidential suite. I hope you have a lovely time there.  Before you leave, please give my eagle a loving pat on one of his broad wings, and whisper to him that I remember him well, and the happy hours that I spent reading in our leafy nook.

I hope you continue with your interesting work for many more years.

Kindest regards,,
Joan Zachor

Stone Repair in Tokyo

This time it was back to Tokyo to repair the stone facade over the front door to our ambassador’s residence.

Stone Entrance US Ambassador's Residence Tokyo

Damage to stone after removal of roof

Stone Repair Detail - AMS

Detail of damage

Repair of US Ambassador's residence in Tokyo

Custom-made concrete insert and drip edge

Faux-stone painting by AMS

Final faux-stone painting of concrete and caulked seams

I’d been there twice before to repair a fountain and restore the broken fingers on a marble sculpture. This time I finally got to be an artist!

 

Sculpture Restoration in Ottawa

Bronze Sculpture RestorationOff to Ottawa

My wife and I drove up to beautiful Ottawa, Canada to restore a water-damaged sculpture at our embassy.

Ottawa is a 4 hour drive north from our home in Montpelier, Vermont. A clean and safe city, and fun to walk around even in the winter. Reasonable hotel and food prices, and the local cuisine – all kinds of food – is delicious.

The Damage

This project involved a bronze sculpture ‘Fountain With Frog’ by the Missouri artist Joseph Pozycinski. The water feature had badly rusted the bronze surface. I was asked to restore the original smooth shiny surface and adjust the pump so it wouldn’t overflow.  Sculpture in Ottawa

Water damage had badly etched the surface with rust and stained the finish on the finely-crafted wood and stone pedestal, completely destroying the signage.

The Fix

It took several long days to remove the rust with metal buffing attachments on a high-speed Dremel. Then I repainted the flat-black water receptacle, polished the black stone surface of the pedestal and sanded the wood top. I repainted the wood top with several coats of water-based clear satin polyurethane, lightly sanding between coats. The small water-damaged plastic name-plate was re-fabricated by my go-to guy for all signage, Jim Madden of ‘On the Button’ archival art services. Finally, I coated the metal surface with a satin polymer known as ‘Everbrite’ which will prevent the water feature from damaging the surface.

Weird Water Problem

Next I checked the pump. People said it was noisy and splashed water “all over the place!” The pump turned out to be in perfect condition, but needed a quick adjustment to reduce the water flow so it wouldn’t splash.

However, the water receptacle is a bit ill-conceived in the sense that the water can’t be too high or too low in this small receptacle. If too low the pump is noisy. If too high the water splashes. There is not much difference between those two limits. Thus someone needs to keep an eye on it throughout the day to be sure the water doesn’t run too high or low. I don’t know any office employee who has the time to devote to a sculpture like this. So embassy staff decided to simply no longer operate the water feature. Disappointing, but the sculpture looks wonderful nonetheless.

Wood Pedestal for bronze sculpture

 

'Fountain with Frog' by Joseph Pozycinski

 

restored bronze surface

 

'Fountain with Frog' by Joseph Pozycinski

 

George Marshall in Athens

George Marshall Sculpture

I left my wife and grandchildren in the record cold of 29 degrees below zero in my hometown of Montpelier, Vermont and headed off to a balmy 50 degrees in Athens, Greece – my latest assignment for the Cultural Heritage Office (CH) of our State Department.

CH is a small talented team of art conservators who take care of all the art, antiques and historical structures in our overseas embassies and ambassadors’ residences.

CH has been one of my clients for a number of years. This past year they asked me to join them full-time, and it’s been a wonderful ride with a new travel adventure nearly every month. This trip I tackled this 10′ bronze of George Marshall standing in front of our embassy in Athens.

Bronze is a marvelous metal. A very durable mix of copper and tin (brass is copper and zinc) first appearing over 5000 years ago in the Western Asian civilization of Sumeria. It’s believed that bronze was discovered when copper and tin-rich rocks were used for campfire rings. Bronze tools, weapons, armor, and building materials soon proliferated because they were harder and more durable than their stone and copper predecessors. Bronze so transformed the world that we call its first 1700 years the ‘Bronze Age.’

Add ‘patina’ and a bronze sculpture is virtually indestructible. Here’s where I get to show off about the word ‘patina.’ You see, patina is often misused even by experts! Here’s a real know-it-all, Dr. Lori Verderame, to set us straight,

“Patina is a process which relates to the application of color or pigment onto a work of cast metal sculpture. The patination process occurs at a cast metal foundry whereby pigment is applied to a metal sculpture to enhance the look of the metal….Patination is applied to a surface, it is NOT a result of the aging process which occurs over time….”

There you go! You’re now smarter than Wikipedia and anyone else who thinks patina is oxidation such as when copper turns green. The green on copper is strictly speaking not patina.

The interesting thing about patina is that it was invented to stop bronze sculpture from oxidation, or as us common people like to say, rust! Like paint, patina does a great job protecting metal sculpture, but it doesn’t completely stop rust. The other interesting thing about patina is that it’s a nasty chemical that’s highly toxic until it dries!

So sculpture nerds like to put something over patina for added protection. Here’s where I come in. Standard maintenance for bronze sculpture is a coat of natural and durable wax such as carnauba every 6 months. I personally believe this is a waste of time, because it doesn’t last a month on outdoor sculpture and isn’t needed on indoor sculpture.

Thanks to the folks over at Everbrite, we now have a better way to protect outdoor metal sculpture. It’s a thin polymer that protects metal surfaces from oxidation and lasts 5 years. In the world of uppity art conservation, you just can’t throw out the traditional wax treatment unless the alternative is tested over time and reversible, meaning you can take it off. Everbrite has been around for 30 years and is entirely reversible. Oh, and a shout-out to Jenn who can ship it anywhere!

Sculpture Repair by Arts Management Services

Sculpture Repair by Bob Hannum

Using Everbrite’s satin finish, I’m slowly but surely coating all the outdoor metal sculptures at our embassies and ambassadors’ residences. Easy to apply after a quick cleaning with a solvent, Everbrite dries for a second coat in just 2 hours, completely drying in 2 days.

The only problem with this product is a minor one. Sometimes a dark bronze sculpture has a gorgeous green oxidation that you’d like to preserve. Everbrite will turn this bright green into dark green as if it’s wet. A good example of this is the sculpture below which is outside the US ambassador’s residence in Oslo, Norway. It is entitled ‘Spirit of the Dance’ by Kaare Kristian Nygaard (1903-1989). Notice the beautiful bright green copper oxidation against the dark patina. This is also a good example of how patina is not the best protection against oxidation. One might not coat this sculpture in order to preserve the bright green color. On the other hand, this sculpture is rusting! I have to weigh beauty against deterioration, so I’m likely to coat this one, too!

‘Spirit of the Dance’ by Kaare Kristian Nygaard at the US Ambassador's Residence in Oslo Norway

Here’s another example. This is a large bronze vessel in the center of a fountain in the back yard of our ambassador’s residence in Tokyo. The stunning green and orange oxidation is so beautiful I’m not going to touch it! And the bronze walls of this object are so thick that even though it is ‘rusting’ it will last several hundred years.

Bronze Urn in Tokyo

Here is another bronze sculpture I coated at the Athens Embassy:

Niki

 

 

Sculpture Repair in Japan

Broken Marble Fingers

Two fingers on this delicate marble sculpture by an unknown artist, a nearly life-sized nude, were broken in the past and then glued back using a substance that darkened over time.

My job was to make it look like the fingers had never been damaged.

The process involved carefully removing just enough of the old glue so as to be able to fill it with a new white epoxy, but not so much that the fingers break again, and without touching any part of the original stone.

Using a professional-grade Dremel I removed a thin layer of the old epoxy without touching any of the original marble surrounding the old repair. Once this was done I applied a 2-part non-glossy white epoxy, filling the cracks so that it looked like the original stone. Finally, and quickly before the epoxy set, I applied white marble dust to match the texture of the stone.

Once dry I did a few minor passes with the Dremel for finishing touches.

Before

 

After

 

Before

 

After

I was happy with the result.