‘Whale Dance’ 2019 by Jim Sardonis, bronze with dark patina, 16’ x 12’, Randolph, VT. Photo by Lelonie Oatway
Thirty years ago, the sculptor Jim Sardonis of Randolph, Vermont created two large black granite whale tales entitled ‘Reverence.’ This sculpture spent 10 years in Randolph before being sold and moved to Technology Park in South Burlington along Interstate 89 North. It remains there today. It was originally meant to anchor a sculpture park but that is yet to come about.
Recently the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Community Foundation commissioned Jim to create a larger bronze version. ‘Whale Dance’ was installed in July 2019 and sits on the same spot where ‘Reverence’ spent its first ten years. As you can see in the photo above, ‘Whale Dance’ is framed by a stunning view of the mountains beyond.
Jim contacted me to remove graffiti. Text in crayon or lipstick pen appeared in 2 areas each about 10″ square. I agreed to address this immediately even thought it was the middle of winter, because graffiti is not only damaging and often ugly, it also encourages more graffiti.
Removal was easy. I applied acetone which removes most paint and other markings from metal without disturbing the patina. Acetone can be used no matter how cold the weather. Luckily the graffiti was not etched which would have required much more work.
It took about a half-hour. I removed the graffiti and applied a dark wax at the artist’s request.
In addition to this work, I also inspected the sculpture.
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There are no cracks. Dozens of pits about 1/16″ diameter or less appear across the surface. These are not a concern since there’s no indication of any penetration below the patina such as green spots or streaks.
There are scuff marks where kids have climbed over the wide lower surfaces, but no scratched or other damage to the patina.
A light green sheen appears on the surface indicating that weather may be causing slight oxidation. The artist informed me that this is by design and not a sign of damage. It is a color applied in the patina which makes the dark surface feel more organic and alive. This is surprisingly effective and a wonderful treatment I never saw before.
Scuff marks, pits, and faint green sheen
The sculpture is embedded in the hillside, and the foundation is hidden under the surface of the ground.
I recommended signage which is proven to reduce vandalism. I also suggested coating the entire surface with a polymer for added protection.
Why Coat Bronze
Traditionally bronze sculpture is coated with wax. This protects it from conditions that harm the surface, such as bird droppings, salt air, and acid rain.
I recommend a polymer coating rather than wax for outdoor sculpture. It seals small cracks and pits, and is less expensive to apply and maintain. Most importantly, it lasts as much as 10 years whereas wax lasts less than a year outdoors.
Most conservators now use polymer coatings. This is the strongest recommendation since the conservation industry is quite conservative and not known for using products that are only 30 years in use!
This treatment restores a ‘new’ look which is virtually identical to an original bronze patina. The manufacturer will adjust the degree of satin to match whatever an artist intends.
Plus, no maintenance is required other than wiping with a cotton cloth and tap water. When the coating fades, just reapply a new one without removing the old. It ‘self-anneals’ meaning the new coat infuses with whatever old polymer remains. Anyone with painting skills can do it. Apply by brush or wiping. It ‘self-levels’, meaning it will not streak. Two coats last up to 10 years depending on weather conditions. Polymers are so durable that I offer a 5-year warranty to my clients.
Update – May 2020
My estimate for coating ‘Whale Dance’ was accepted and I plan to do the work this coming fall.
I did several tests of different shades of the satin coating in order to exactly match the finish of the sculpture. The artist joined me to give it his eye as well – we stayed 6′ apart and wore masks following COVID-19 precautions recommended by the Vermont governor.
We agreed on a satin tone that’s half of the usual chemical mixture. We also tested brush versus wipe. The coating takes only 20 minutes to dry to the touch, and 60 minutes between coats.
I called Everbrite and they just shipping a custom batch. The Everbrite company is very responsive to custom orders. They mix and ship the same day.
Our governor, Phil Scott, is slowly opening businesses state-wide. Those with up to 10 employees can reopen as long as customers and employees stay 6′ apart and wear masks. Restaurants, schools, and movie theaters are not yet allowed. My one-person business is good to go.
I plan to apply two coats as recommended, and another two for added protection over the lower sections where kids climb. I’ll inspect yearly for free as I do for all my clients, and I expect the coating to last 7-10 years.