Thirty years ago, the sculptor Jim Sardonis of Randolph, Vermont created 2 large black granite whale tales entitled “Reverence.” It spent its first 10 years in Randolph at which point it was sold and moved to Technology Park in S. Burlington to anchor a proposed sculpture park where it remains today.
Recently he was commissioned by the Preservation Trust of Vermont with help from the Vermont Community Foundation to do a larger bronze version. “Whale Dance” was installed in July of 2019 on the same spot that Reverence spent its first ten years with a stunning view of the mountains beyond.
Jim contacted me to remove some graffiti – crayon or lipstick pen – in 2 areas of the sculpture measuring about 10’ square. I agreed with his request to address this immediately since graffiti tends to encourage more graffiti.
Removal was quite easy even though it was the dead of winter! It involves a thin application of acetone which removes most paint and other markings from metal without disturbing the patina. Acetone can be applied no matter how cold the weather. Luckily the graffiti was not etched into the surface which would have required much more work.
It took about a half-hour to wipe off the graffiti and reapply a dark wax at the artist’s request.
In addition to this work, I also inspected the sculpture.
There are no cracks in the patina and about two dozen pits of 1/16” diameter or less. These are not a concern as there is no indication of any penetration below the patina which is often marked by green spots or streaks.
Several areas have a light green sheen indicating that weather may be causing slight oxidation. The artist pointed out that these are by choice, an effect he added to the patina to make the dark surface feel more organic and alive – a wonderful treatment I had never seen before.
The sculpture is embedded in the hillside with a non-visible foundation.
I recommended signage which is proven to reduce vandalism and coating the entire surface with a polymer for protection.
Why Coat Bronze
Bronze sculpture has traditionally been coated with wax to protect it from conditions that can harm the metal surface, such as bird droppings, salt air, and acid rain.
I recommend a polymer coating rather than wax for outdoor sculpture because it seals small cracks and pits, lasts as much as 10 years (wax lasts less than a year on outdoor sculpture), and is less expensive to apply and maintain.
Furthermore, polymer coatings are now used by most outdoor sculpture conservators, reflecting a growing satisfaction with a product that is relatively new (30 years) in the conservation industry.
This treatment will restore a ‘new’ look which is virtually identical to an original dark brown semi-gloss bronze patina. The satin effect can be adjusted by the manufacturer to match perfectly whatever the artists intend.
Plus, no maintenance is required other than wiping with a cotton cloth and tap water as needed. When the coating fades, a new coat can be applied without removing the old one, and this can be done by anyone with painting skills. Two coats can last as long as 10 years depending on weather conditions.
I plan to coat “Whale Dance” in the spring.