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.

Best Bronze Protection

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

Why Coat Bronze

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

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

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

The Trouble With Wax

I've used wax myself on sculptures. But recent research definitively shows that new products are better. After using a particular polymer known as Everbrite, I'm totally convinced that polymers are better in so many ways. I chose Everbrite because it has a track record of over 30 years - the longer something's been used successfully, the more I trust it.

The Advantage of Polymer

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

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

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

How long wax lasts on a sculpture is purely a guess. Some conservators claim up to two years. Others say three months. The truth is, no one really knows. For outdoor sculpture, it all depends on the weather. And wax on one side of a sculpture may weather more than another side. To know just how long wax lasts, you need to test the particular sculpture which is a time-consuming and expensive process. I'm shaking my head, because why even do this when we know that polymer lasts longer, up to ten years!

Everbrite also provides UV and anti-oxidant protection, and does not yellow.

Frankly, I think it's simply nonsense to ever use wax again on outdoor sculpture.

The Downside

One criticism of polymer is that it's too shiny or just doesn't produce the same look as wax. This was true for early versions, but not any more. Manufacturers now mix any shade of satin or mat finish desired. In fact, the sculpture presented here is an example of just such a test of many different shades before the artist and I agreed on the perfect match. The Everbrite company mixes any shade requested at no extra charge.

Final Thoughts

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

The final comparison is expense. When you think about all the issues mentioned above, polymer is hands-down less expensive than wax.

Bob Hannum and Jim Sardonis
Bob Hannum and Jim Sardonis

Coating 'Whale Dance'

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

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

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

Nonetheless, any decent conservator wants to know and respect an artist's wishes when reasonable. And like most sculptors, Jim prefers wax, but after I presented the wax versus polymer issue, and my experience, Jim decided to try a polymer.

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

Getting Started

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

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

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

Final Results

More and more conservators now use polymer coatings. This is the best recommendation of all since the conservation industry is quite careful. Conservators are not known for using products such as polymers that are 'only' 30 years in use!

This particular coating restored a new look identical to the original dark brown bronze patina.

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

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

Bob Hannum restoring 'Whale Dance'

References

1. Latest European study on wax, 2002, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303158807_Protect_our_European_outdoor_bronze_monuments_Good_Practice_Guide_Culture_2000

2. Assessing the Protective Quality of Wax Coatings on Bronze Sculptures Using Hydrogel Patches in Impedance Measurements, 2016, Downloadable PDF at www.mdpi.com P. 10 - polymers are more protective than all waxes tested.

3. Latest research abstracts on polymer coatings for bronze, 2020 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222801665_Developing_and_testing_a_new_generation_of_protective_coatings_for_outdoor_bronze_sculpture

4. More research, 2019, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300944018309743

Antique Plaster Frame Restoration

finished

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

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

No problem.

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

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

Cleaning

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

Drilling and Pins

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

Plaster

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

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

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

Shaping

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

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

Paint

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

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

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

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

Sculpture on the Highway

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

The Story Begins in 1968

"OK, now what?!" Or so I imagine the words of Paul Aschenbach standing in front of over twenty monumental sculptures. He'd gathered artists from all over the world - the United States, Austria, Japan, South Africa, Germany, and Yugoslavia - to create these huge works of art in stone and concrete.

Now, where to put them? Too big for most museums.

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

The Symposia

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

As noted in Wikipedia,

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

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

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

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

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

Marble and Concrete

Twenty-two sculptures were created during Vermont's first two symposia. Some were sold according to an agreement among the artists, including a sculpture by Clement Meadmore. One was damaged beyond repair during a later relocation effort. The remaining sixteen were placed at rest areas 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.

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

My Role

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

The first step was to inspect the condition of each sculpture for grant proposals David and his team plan to submit. One of the grants, 'Save America's Treasures', seeks federal money for conservation.

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

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

The Adventure Begins

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

I created conditions reports and plans for repairs and on-going maintenance. The goal, as explained by Vermont's State Curator, is not to bring these sculptures back to their original condition but rather to delay the natural deterioration for as long as possible.

‘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 give them all sturdy foundations. Next, fill cracks since the freeze/thaw cycle of Vermont weather causes the most damage. Each year cracks get a bit wider and longer.

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

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

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

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

VTrans to the Rescue

Then a pleasant surprise! The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), our state highway department, got wind of our efforts and offered to help. Now we're working with VTrans to move sculptures and create foundations. We plan to begin this critical first stage in preservation when Covid subsides.

Getting Started

The plan is to move some of the sculptures to high-use rest areas to reduce the risk of vandalism and 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 2020 and 2021. If we're lucky and all goes as planned, work will be completed by the end of 2023, including exciting interpretive programs at rest stops, welcome centers, and websites.

In the meantime, we're organizing 'Friends of Sculpture on the Highway', a group of the original artists, their family members and friends, and interested citizens to join us in advocacy, fundraising, and brainstorming. Please join us by contacting me with a comment below or emailing me directly at rwhannum@gmail.com. All are welcome to join in this exciting project!

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

Update: August 2019

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

Also, one of my clients, the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of our US State Dept, just 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're a wonderful group of people and I'm thrilled to be working with them!

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

Update: October 2019

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

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

We just met with two sisters who are nieces of Erich Reischke. They came from California to see his sculpture. Byron Brees who heads our volunteer group, and I, spent an afternoon with them at their uncle’s sculpture, talking and reminiscing.

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

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

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

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

Peter supports our plans for signage and foundations for his sculpture and all the others. His contribution to ‘Sculpture on the Highway’ was thought to be ‘Untitled’ but we discovered that 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 and parked at the rest stop. We plan to move this sculpture and Peter enjoyed our suggestion of the Sharon Welcome Center where it could once again align with a view of the mountains at one end and the highway at the other.

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

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

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

Update: March 2020

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

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

More about Kate as our conversations continue.

Update: August 2020

We received one of the four grants we're going after. Had to reaply for the other three. This is a blessing in disguise since now we're adding support from artists, family members, art organizations, and other interested parties.

We've discovered that the symposia resumed about 20 years ago in Maine 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.

Jesse has joined our 'Friends of Sculpture on the Highway.'

Update: February 2021

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

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

 

Cleaning Grave Stones

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

gravestone restoration complete
Gravestone Cleanup Complete

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

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

Mural Restoration in Kingston, Jamaica

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

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

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

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

Brief History

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

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

Graffiti

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

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. After removing the graffiti I applied a dark wax at the artist’s request.

Inspection

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

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

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

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

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

The sculpture is embedded in the hillside. The foundation is hidden under the surface of the ground. For additional information about the installation please refer to this fine article at https://www.ourherald.com/articles/whales-dance-again-at-exit-4/.

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

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

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 sealant that over time turned black.

This was my first visit to Portugal and I soon learned that ceramic tile, particularly the blue and white pattern covering this fountain, has a special place in the history of this country. Nearly every building in Lisbon is covered with them, and you can tell how old a building is just by the tile pattern.

The Moors introduced Islamic art and mosaic tile to the Iberian peninsula, now Portugal, in the 8th century. The story goes that the Portuguese King Manuel I was awestruck by the beauty of Moorish tile when he visited the Alhambra Palace in southern Spain. He immediately ordered that his palace in Portugal be similarly decorated. And so 'azulejos', originally white and blue ceramic tiles, were fully embraced by the Portugese even after the Moors were driven from Portugal in 15th century.

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.