Arts management services

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

 

 

Art Conservation of the Buddha

The Buddha in New Jersey

Art Conservation - FudO MyO-O

I periodically return to the world headquarters of Becton Dickinson and Company (BD) in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey to clean and repair the world’s largest wood sculpture of the Buddha.

Wait a minute…New Jersey? Not somewhere in Asia? What’s he doing in New Jersey?

Completed in 1993, this astonishing sculpture was carved by a team of Japanese craftsmen following an age-old Buddhist tradition as a project of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). It took over 2 years to complete.

The plaque beside the immense sculpture reads

Yasuhiko Hashimoto, Jinichi Itoh & Isao Yanagimoto, 1990-1993 Alaskan yellow cedar, Japanese lacquer, gold leaf FUDO MYOH-OH (Immovable King of Light). Created by Japanese artists at the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Fudo represents a fierce and raging manifestation of the Buddha’s power against evil. The warrior stands motionless and firm upon a rock ready to protect humans from their greed and negativity. He appears as he has for hundreds of years, holding a rope in his left hand to symbolize bondage to ego and self-indulgence. In his right hand he holds a sword poised to cut loose those bonds and all other impediments in the way of enlightenment. Ancient interpretations of Fudo Myoh-oh show him as a messenger of the Buddha and as such he is given a boyish body, but because he combats evil and symbolizes the destruction of wickedness, his face is filled with rage. Traditional Buddhist literature describes him as having bulging eyes and ferocious, protruding teeth. The braid over his left shoulder suggests his servant status. Fudo is also loved for his ability to control disease, subdue enemies, and to assist in the acquisition of wealth and peace. The sculpture was made according to techniques dating back to the 11th century. It was fabricated with the help of students at the Maryland Institute College of Art and donated to Becton Dickinson by the Institute to insure its preservation as a work of art and as a symbol of friendship and understanding between Japan and the United States. The Becton Dickinson sculpture is the largest Fudo Myoh-oh in the world.

When completed in 1993 MICA sought a permanent location for this giant 2-and-a-half-story sculpture. BD’s campus of beautiful award-winning buildings became a perfect home with its large sunlit atriums. The Buddha was placed in one such room at the head of an ornamental pond, providing humidity that helps prevent damage to the wood. A large hole was cut into the side of the building to install the sculpture.

Art Conservation Techniques

Fudo Myo-o art conservation

My assistant and I spent 2 days removing dust and repairing sections of gold and silver leaf.

We used special brushes made of squirrel hair. Unlike other brush hairs, squirrel has no barbs which is ideal for removing dust without damaging the leaf or lacquer.

Scaffolding was carefully constructed so that no part of it touches the sculpture while allowing close contact with every surface. Gloves are worn at all times so that the corrosive oils in our hands never come in contact with the art.

The scaffolding costs several thousand dollars for our 2 days of use. Luckily, the dust buildup takes about 5 years before it becomes visible and thus requiring our services again.

Iconography

Known as Fudō Myō-ō, this is the wrathful Buddha venerated especially by the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.

Fudō converts anger into salvation with a furious face that subdues all impediments to the spiritual goals of wisdom and compassion.

art conservation - buddha in New Jersey

His devil-subduing sword represents wisdom cutting through ignorance. His rope symbolizes several things – catching and binding demon impediments to knowledge as well as the terribly binding and restrictive quality of our egos and ignorance. The third eye in his forehead is all-seeing. He stands upon a rock representing the immovability of faith.

Fudō is also worshiped as a deity who can bring good health and financial success.

Myō-ō is the Japanese term for a group of warlike and wrathful deities known as the Wisdom Kings. All Myō-ō statues appear ferocious and menacing, protecting the teachings, removing all obstacles to understanding, and forcing evil to surrender. Introduced to Japan in the 9th century, the Myō-ō were originally Hindu deities that were adopted into Buddhism. In Japan, among all the different Myō-ō, Fudō is the most widely venerated.

We finished our work, bowed respectfully to Fudo and wished him well until our next scheduled visit, or until his venerable protector, BD’s Projects & Facility Services Manager, Tony Albanese, calls again.

New Developments

Recently, a reader contacted me. Peter Wechsler was a student at MICA when this sculpture was created and became a life-long friend of the chief sculptor, Mr. Hashimoto. He kindly shared his fascinating memories.

I met Hashimoto when he worked at MICA. He is from Fukushima, where I also studied temple carpentry. Fortunately, his family was OK after the earthquake, but were probably not too far from the nuclear plant. As I recall, he and two other sculptors, all students of the same teacher, came over to MICA together, but I think Hashimoto stayed the longest. I believe a patron in Japan supplied the money for the project. The sculpture was created using a traditional technique called ‘yosegi’ or joined wood, gluing together blocks of wood, in this case Alaskan yellow cedar.

They made a model of the sculpture, and sliced it into thin sections, each representing one 2″ thick section of the finished sculpture, or whatever the size of the materials they were using. They then glued these together and assembled them. The inside is hollow to save on materials and weight, and to avoid problems with humidity. They then started carving, using all hand tools which took quite a while. Then they painted it and inserted the glass eyes.

The paint is a very durable finish made from the sap of urushi, a relative of poison ivy, so those who use it usually have strong reactions until they develop a tolerance. It also requires humidity to cure. Then they applied the gold leaf.

After it was finished, there was an impressive fire ceremony with a Tendai priest. They also read a poem about Fudo Myo by Gary Snyder that I haven’t been able to find. However, I came across an interesting account of hiking in the Japanese mountains in 1969 by him that talks a little about Fudo Myo’s position in Japanese Buddhism.

http://www.kyotojournal.org/the-journal/spirit/the-womb-diamond-trail/

I think they assumed that it would be easy to find a home for the statue when it was finished, but was too big for most interior spaces. It couldn’t be left outside without a building. We talked about building some sort of building, but it was also probably too religious for most public spaces. It was therefore a big relief when they made contact with the CEO of Becton Dickinson who was interested in Asian art. They were just building their new headquarters which sounded perfect. I went up there to visit when they installed it. The head and arms were removed and I could see marks where they had dragged it through the hallways. The space seemed perfect with a fountain for humidity and the skylight. I remember talking to one of the guards who said some of them were afraid to go in there at night. He said he went in there once and it was looking down at him with lightning visible through the skylight.

Later [in my career as a carpenter] I went over to Japan and worked on a temple where Hashimoto was creating carvings, and visited him a couple of times at his home in Kyoto. He later moved to Osaka and I visited him when I was there three or four years ago. I definitely recommend getting in touch. His house is a taste of an older Japan, and he would probably be happy to put you up…

Peter

And this from another reader, David Brown.

I was the Director of Exhibitions at MICA from 1989-96. Yashuhiko, the lead, and his two accomplished sculptors had a temporary studio in the parking lot of the old train station which housed among other things, the school’s library, the Decker Gallery, and grad and undergrad sculpture studios and classrooms.
Fudo was created in a three story temp studio made out of corrugated metal with large front doors. We checked on the progress almost everyday by looking through the gap in the doors, watching the work slowly come together.

I took the artist James Grashow there to see the work. Grashow was there to help oversee the installation of his giant standing sculpture called ‘Building Man’ and was so blown away that when I see him today, that’s always the first thing he brings up. We envisioned a battle between Building Man and Fudo, knowing full well that we didn’t stand a chance! Building Man is a cross between a skyscraper and a business man, complete with Gulliver-like tiny attendants, hanging off the side, washing windows, elevators in the shoes…a nice work for Grashow, who resides in Connecticut.

There was a series of ceremonies that blessed the creation but I can’t recall what they were or if I even attended.

Peter just unearthed photos of the fabrication.
      
   
    
        
       
Fudo Myo-o 2019

Sculpture Restoration for Williams College

Something Missing!

Arts Management Services (AMS) recently installed a sculpture from the collection of the Williams College Museum of Art.

1 week installation in 1.5 minutes!

It’s a sculpture by the environmental artist and architect Michael Singer entitled Ritual Series 1990 now on exhibit through February 19, 2017.

It’s the centerpiece of a group exhibition titled ‘Shaping Space,’ which also includes works by Richard Serra, Mel Edwards, and Louise Nevelson. To learn more about this exhibition, visit the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA).

During the installation I discovered that a few pieces were missing much to the chagrin of the artist and museum staff. After an extensive search the pieces were not found. Michael Singer determined that the sculpture looked fine to exhibit, but that the missing pieces should be restored.

So WCMA commissioned AMS to restore the missing pieces. We completed the project and replaced the missing pieces on February 7.

Acquisition

Art Installation by Arts Management Services

Arts Management Services assisted in the original fabrication of this sculpture in the early ’90’s.

Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts added this sculpture to their permanent collection as a gift from one of artist’s closest friends and a graduate of Williams College, Dr. William Fishkind.

About the Sculpture

Art Installation by Arts Management Services

Ritual Series, 1990 consists of wood, granite, field stone, copper and bronze measuring 230″ x 230″ x 75″ tall.

The wood has a gorgeous texture created by sand-blasting 2″ thick rough-cut pine, harvested from the woods nearby Michael’s Vermont studio by a local mill. After sand-blasting, the large and heavy planks were carefully singed to create an ancient look. The wood is not coated and easily bruised so handling is careful with gloves at all times. Likewise packing and storage is done with special care to avoid bruising or scratching the soft wood.

Field stone was collected from around the artists 100-acre property in the mountains of southern Vermont. Mr. Singer would assemble a group of us from his studio and line us up behind him in a single row. We would then follow him all over his fields like ducklings. He would point to a rock and one of us would pick it up and carry it. Most were too heavy to carry more than one. When we all had one we would load them on his pickup truck and transport them to be cut flat on one end.

Holes were drilled into the planks. These holes refer to the aboriginal maritime culture of the Chumash who lived along the coast of what is now California. They created their canoes by lashing planks together which they referred to as Tomol, which was the original name of this artwork when first exhibited outdoors in a dry riverbed of the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens.

Another interesting feature is the ‘barrewood’ and the barrewood patterns reflected in some of the bronze elements. Barrewood is a term used by the artist because these distinct patterns are created by huge saw blades that cut thru granite and slightly into 2 x 4 planks that line and protect the floor. Michael’s stone cutters are located in Barre, Vermont.

Art Installation Details

Williams College art installation

One of the secrets of this artist’s work is the precise degree of vertical plumb and horizontal level. Most good carpenters notice when something is off-level by anywhere from an 1/8″ to 1/4.” Incredibly, Mr. Singer notices pieces that are off-level by only 1/32″! This precision creates a subliminal effect of calm and quiet, making the heaviness of stone, metal and thick wood seem light, floating, contemplative, even otherworldly. This stunning effect can be felt in this and many of his other sculptures.

Many of the granite and bronze pieces are heavy and the long and thick pine planks bulky, needing 2 to handle and place precisely according to the instructions.

Our team devised an instructional system with carefully marked photographs whereby intricate sculpture such as this can be assembled and disassembled by museum and gallery preparators.

This art installation required 2 people 5 days to install.

This is only the second showing of this sculpture at Williams since it’s purchase and exhibition in 1990.

The current exhibition notes this about the artist and this work:

In 1971, Michael Singer fled New York City and settled in rural Vermont, where he found solace and renewed inspiration in nature. Comprised of scuptures and landwork, much of Singer’s body of work exists outside of traditional art spaces. In his architectural designs, gardens indoor and outdoor artworks, and infrastructure projects, he consistently endeavors to produce ecologically sustainable objects and spaces that draw inspiration from their particular environment. This sculpture is part of Singer’s ongoing Ritual Series, a collection of indoor installations crafted using an array of natural materials. Curved wooden beams enclose a labyrinthine interior of stone, metal, and wooden forms. For Singer, this central sanctum is akin to an inner realm – a sacred space from which to contemplate one’s place in the natural world.

Fountain Restoration in Tokyo

New and Exciting Challenge

Update 2017 – Project Successfully Completed with Surprises!

 

Arts Management Services has been asked to restore this Japanese fountain to its original 1929 look.

Sculpture restoration by AMS in Tokyo

The fountain is part of one of the most important properties in the history of U.S. diplomacy.

Built in 1929, it’s among the first residences specifically built as a U.S. ambassador’s home. This is where, at the end of World War II, Emperor Hirohito met with General Douglas MacArthur and renounced his divinity, forever altering the influence of Japan’s imperial family. Apart from historical significance, this quiet residence with its spacious garden sits in the heart of busy Tokyo.

The large circular fountain pool is lined with a distinctive pattern of colorful tile that shimmers in the shallow water. The central bronze urn is believed to have come from an ancient royal temple where large vessels, usually made of wood, catch and conserve rainwater. Its surface is beautifully aged with brilliant shades of orange and green patina.

Tokyo fountain repair

Now it needs some TLC.

The best part about this project is all the fascinating adventures and knowledge in store as I assemble a team of experts to tackle many challenges. I’ll be talking to Japanese artisans to create matching tile, engineers experienced with repairing concrete tunnels damaged by seismic events – Tokyo averages 6 tremors per year – and with plumbers about an unusual way of replacing underground pipe by boring through the soil using water pressure.

Once all the estimates are gathered and final decisions made, we’ll assemble materials, people and equipment for what looks to be a 2-3 week project scheduled for April or May.

While the project proceeds I’ll be stopping briefly along the way to create short videos of the special people involved and the unusual things they’re doing!

I’m writing from Starbucks in Narita Airport, Tokyo about to head home after a 10-day whirlwind tour of embassies and ambassador residences in Manila, Baguio and here. The State Department calls me whenever their art needs some TLC. Great trip. I pinch myself that I get paid for this! Looking forward to returning soon.

Which Restoration Option

Several restoration options are on the table. One involves removing the entire existing surface and replacing it with a very hard 4″ thick ‘bowl’ of reinforced concrete so that when an earthquake occurs, the bowl doesn’t crack but rather moves on its foundation.
Another option is to leave the existing structure intact and just replace the cracked tile. If we can’t find tile replacements I will create concrete facsimiles from a silicone mold and paint them to blend in with existing and original tiles of soft green, blue, black, orange and white.
 
Now that I’ve seen the fountain and spoken with several knowledgeable and helpful embassy staff, it’s time to start researching the options and finding out what they’ll cost. Then I submit the ideas and estimates to Jim Wenzel back in Washington, DC, whose team is known as the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of the Office of Buildings Overseas (OBO) of the US Department of State.
This busy team of 6 overseas all the art, antiques, historic buildings and gifts owned by our government. Jim will decide which option is best.
Which one do I prefer? At the moment I’m most intrigued by the idea of coming up with a way to just allow cracks to happen and replacing tiles as needed. The challenge is to find a simple way to do it that also stops water from leaking – fresh water is an expensive commodity in Tokyo and an increasingly important focus of conservation all over the world.
Once the decision has been made I assemble the team to carry out the work and join them in Tokyo, hopefully in time to see the cherry blossoms.

Sculpture Installation for Michael Singer

New Project for the Environmental Artist Michel Singer

My team and I, joined by our newest member, my son William, just embarked on a challenging project.

Michael Singer commissioned my company Arts Management Services to remove several of his sculptures that are currently installed in his private gallery, and replace them with new ones. This is in preparation for a special visit next month by representatives of the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art). They are visiting his studio to possibly include his work in an upcoming exhibition of western and middle eastern art. They may also purchase something.

Michael Singer sculpture installation
First Gate Ritual Series 1985

The work began at the end of April, 2016 and is expected to take 5 weeks.

The first sculpture pictured above is nearly a hundred pieces and many are very easy to break! Adding to the challenge, every time the next piece is placed, the ash pieces bend under the additional weight, causing the entire piece to change, meaning that everything previously placed needs to be adjusted all over again! The key to this and every Singer sculpture is that horizontal and vertical pieces are level and plumb.

Not as fun a project as one might think but – hey – could be worse! After a couple weeks now my son and I have it all up. We are letting it ‘settle’ so that whatever bending the ash will do under the weight of it all, takes it’s course so that we can finish leveling it. Now we are leveling all the vertical and horizontal pieces for a final time which makes the entire work feel like it’s floating!  We’re just happy it all hasn’t fallen down!

Now we’re on to the next piece. Lots of heavy and fragile marble as you can see in the picture below. The grey walls are a stunningly beautiful 2″ thick pine, sand basted and then painted white and finally dirt is rubbed into the nearly dried paint. The effect is a textured antique-looking surface with white and patinaed copper leaf sparkling thru.

This is a very different piece – no settling here. But as with the previous piece, horizontal levels are critical to the overall effect of quiet and other-worldliness this piece evokes.

Art exhibition in Copenhagen
Ritual Series Map of Memory 2001-2010

The final days of the project are spent carefully inspecting both pieces and the entire gallery with last minute details like sanding the marble surface to clean it of all dirt and foot prints, repairing wood surfaces that are slightly damaged in storage, and cleaning the gallery space.

The project has been completed on time with a few days to spare. We always put a lot of long days in at the beginning in case of emergencies and to avoid crises at the end. When projects like this are completed without any surprises, it’s so enjoyable.