Sculpture Restoration at the Winfield House

Sculpture Restoration Begins With a Conditions Report and Repair Estimate

This brief trip to London was to inspect the indoor and outdoor sculpture at the US Embassy and the Ambassador’s residence at the Winfield House. I return in the coming months for sculpture restoration.

The One Ton Eagle

sculpture repair - arts management services

First stop was our embassy to look at 15 indoor sculptures, mostly busts of presidents in bronze, resin, and plaster. Next I ventured out onto the roof to inspect the 37 foot long, two thousand pound aluminum “Eagle” by Theodore Roszak that perches six stories above street level.

In 1960 when the eagle was placed atop the embassy, locals hated it as a symbol of American poor taste and brash attitude. Now, 56 years later, our embassy is moving to a new location and the old building has been sold to a businessman from Qatar. Ah, how time heals, because now the neighborhood insists that the building and especially the eagle remain.

So the Qarari businessman has agreed to restore the building rather than tear it down for a new hotel. He also agreed to keep the eagle where it is. The US for their part agreed to gift the sculpture and share the history of its maintenance. One of those rare stories of conflict where all parties end up happy!

One of my tasks is to figure out how exactly this piece was coated over all the years it was exposed to the elements. What kind of resin coating was used? How many coats? Did any contain metal, because this sculpture is often described as ‘guilt’ which is a reference to a coating that contains metal. The new owner intends to care for the sculpture in the best way possible by removing, cleaning, and re-coat it before placing it back on its perch as a major attraction in its rooftop restaurant and bar.

Oh, and about that 6-story high detail, this is a bit of a challenge since I’m not all that comfortable with heights! I survived the inspection, but any restoration by me will have to wait until it’s lowered to the ground.

Gorgeous Winfield House

art repair - Winfield House

Next it was off to the Winfield House to inspect all of the permanent outdoor sculpture and a garden pool. During this visit I had the pleasure of interviewing the talented Head Gardener of 20 years, Mr. Stephen Crisp, who was most generous with his time and whose input was invaluable for the report.

These inspections were arranged for the following reasons:

  1. Determine how best to prepare the eagle for its transition to new ownership.
  2. Determine if there are any current sculpture restoration needs.
  3. Create a plan for ongoing maintenance of the sculpture and pool.

My employer for this project is the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) and the US State Department’s Art in Embassies program. The folks in these organizations are a pleasure to work with. We’ve worked on several sculpture restoration and Art Conservation - Winfield Houseinstallation projects over the years including our consulate in Istanbul and our embassy in Athens. After this London project there’s talk of work to be done on an outdoor fountain at our embassy in Japan.

The plan is to return in August when the Ambassador and his family are on vacation, to spend two weeks restoring the artworks so that minor maintenance by in-house staff is all that is needed for decades to come.

To give you a sense of the unusual challenges that come with every project, two concrete garden ornaments in the approximate shape of the American bald eagle, with no artistic value whatsoever, must be replaced! It turns out that major garden publications often feature the exquisite grounds of the Winfield House, and photographs often include these eagles. Thus, although they have no artistic value, they have a great deal of aesthetic value. They have deteriorated over time, been chipped and glued, and now need replacement.

sculpture repair at the Winfield HouseNo identical concrete eagles have been located. So a discussion is now underway as to whether we should replace them with similar eagles, replace them with flower-filled urns which look quite nice as well, or make molds of these and make copies. Or do we leave the whole issue up to the fine taste of the gardening staff to do whatever they think is in keeping with the look and feel of the entire garden?

If we copy the existing eagles, we would then let them sit outdoors in some storage area for about 18 month in order to age so that the next time there’s a repair need we’ll simply replace the two eagles with our copies and no one will even notice!