Robert Hannum

Sculpture Restoration at Becton, Dickinson and Company

Thirty-Year-Old Sculpture

Michael_Singer_Becton_Interior_Atria_Gardens-6From March 1 thru 11, 2019, my son and I restored a 30-year-old in-ground sculpture, Atrium Garden, by Michael Singer. It took us 11 long days. It’s now good for another 30 years!

Back 30 years ago I was part of the team that installed it.

After 30 years this sculpture of pine and stone needed some serious TLC. The original construction as shown in the photo above was comprised of wood units made of 2x4’s enclosed with ½’’ plywood.

Why PT Was Not Originally Used

Pressure treated wood products had become popular since the 1970s but by the mid-’80s when we constructed this sculpture, research indicated that the chemicals used were too toxic for indoor application. It wasn’t until the 90’s that safer chemicals were used in the production of PT products. So when we built this sculpture we decided not to use PT. Instead, we coated the outside ply with tar and plastic as a safe alternative for protecting the wood from contact with plant irrigation and moist soil.

It held up well but after 30 years the plastic had eroded in many places and the ply had rotted. The rot was so extensive that in many places only a sheet of tar remained! The sheets of ply on the other side of each structure and visible on the inside of each ‘hole’ were coated with glue and dirt to give the impressions of a dirt excavation. These were in good shape except for the bottom of each one where moist dirt created rot. Most of the 2x4’s were pock-marked with rot.

Related Projects:

Each hole is about 5 and a half feet deep with a concrete floor that we covered with dirt to look like an excavation. Under the plants are about a foot of gravel and topsoil. Fulling all the remaining space between the concrete floor and the soil were layers of thick 4” rigid foam.

Interestingly, we expected to find small lizards and spiders which we spotted at times during the 1½ year scheduled maintenance visits throughout the past years. We encountered none.

A Dirty Job

The contents of each hole were removed - wood structures and large stones. A manual crane was used to remove most of these stones which were too heavy to lift by hand. Each structure was reconditioned with pressure-treated (PT) wood. Outdoor-grade latex paint and 35-year latex caulking were applied to the seams and bare wood to match the color of the surrounding dirt hole. Outdoor-grade decking screws were used at all times.

Then each ‘dirt wall’ made of plywood and 2x4’s was removed and reconditioned. Old ply and 2x4’s were replaced with PT. Sheets of thick plastic were placed as a barrier between the dirt and plants and the new structures. Finally, the wood and stone elements were placed back into their holes.


The long days were due to the challenges presented by our location. We stayed at a comfortable hotel only 10 minutes away from the BD campus. We started each day leisurely with a nice hot breakfast and drive over to BD in William’s truck by 10 am each morning. We estimated 16 days for this project if we worked straight thru with no days off. We couldn’t make loud noise from hammers, saws or vacuums during business hours. So, we used this time to purchase supplies and prepare everything we needed so that once 6 pm arrived we were ready for a loud and intense 3 or 4 more hours of work.

Keeping It Safe

Because employees were working and walking near us throughout each day, we were very careful to keep our worksite clean and organized and surrounded by safety cones and air filters to maintain a safe, healthy and productive work environment for BD employees. The polished granite and marble floors surrounding the sculpture were protected at all times with moving blankets and thick plastic sheet. And of course, we had to watch our language when faced with the occasional frustrating moment!

About BD

BD is the world’s largest producer of non-pharmaceutical medical supplies. Their many inventions include the syringe, the thermometer, ace bandage, and the black leather doctor’s bag. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, BD employs nearly 50,000 people in more than 50 countries throughout the world. The founders, Maxwell Becton, and Fairleigh Dickinson were also collectors of art. In 1986 work began to create a new campus in Franklin Lakes, NJ. New buildings would feature large work spaces with natural light and beautiful art.

Award-Winning Architecture

The architects Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood envisioned a Tuscan villa-style design with stately buildings set among rolling hills made of mahogany, polished stone and copper. Their design achieved every major architectural award. The chief architect, McKinnell placed large atriums within each building and commissioned the sculptor Michael Singer to create 2 large indoor sculptures and another large outdoor one for each space. Singer and McKinnell became friends and collaborated on subsequent artworks and architectural designs.

Losing Energy

After about the sixth long and hard day, we’d had it! My son William and I were a bit down and out with no end in sight. So, we called in our friend Al Chapman to lift our spirits and lighten our load. He was just what we needed! Over the next 3 days his skill, energy and good humor got us all back on track. Suddenly, the project was almost finished and we were all ecstatic!

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


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:




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.


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.

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…


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

A contemporary Buddhist statue thought to be the world’s largest wooden image of the deity Fudo Myo-O recently passed the 25th year since it was completed and installed in its permanent home on the U.S. East Coast, following a years-long collaboration between a team of Japanese sculptors and the Maryland arts community that embraced the project.

The cedar statue, which stands just over 10 meters tall, depicts “The Immovable King of Light” — a benevolent but fearsome manifestation of the Buddha who wields a sword, coiled rope and angry scowl against evils such as illusion and ignorance.

Yasuhiko Hashimoto, 64, the sculptor who initiated and led the effort along with colleagues Jinichi Ito and Isao Yanagimoto, said he felt drawn to the project at a time when Japanese culture was not well- known or appreciated in the United States.

“I knew America to be a free and open-minded country, though at the time (in the early 1990s) Americans tended to see Japan as an industrial nation represented by its cars,” said Hashimoto, a native of Fukushima Prefecture who lives in Osaka. “Creating a Buddhist statue was a way to help introduce them to the depth of Japan’s spiritual culture.”

The project, which took place over the course of three years, officially began in the summer of 1990 at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. With outside funding including from a Japanese arts patron and local in-kind donations, the sculptors worked in a temporary studio built for the purpose in a campus parking lot to bring the massive 6-ton figure to life.

While not explicitly aiming to create the world’s largest statue of its kind, Hashimoto wanted to exceed both the 5-meter Fudo Myo-O the trio had previously made for a temple in Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture as well as the 8-meter historical masterpieces by 12th/13th-century sculptors Unkei and Kaikei, whose realism in depicting Buddhist deities greatly influenced the present Fudo’s style.

“The audacity of size is a tremendous statement in this work,” said Jane Elkinton, an Asian art specialist who witnessed the sculpture’s creation as a professor at the Maryland Institute.

She explained that while “the stance, lay of the drapery with its elegant flutters, and proportions” of the giant work are consistent with Japanese tradition, it also embodies a “humanistic quality” for the sake of Western viewers by changing the customary blue skin to a warmer, human tone and shifting the typically straight-ahead angry glare to a “less confrontational” gaze to the side.

The sculpture team used the “yosegi zukuri” or joined-block technique to assemble the figure from multiple hollow parts, giving students and visitors an understanding of an artistic practice perfected in 11th-century Japan.

“The greatest aspect of the project was the overwhelming generosity on the part of the sculptors,” Elkinton said. “Hashimoto inspired everyone who visited his studio with his talent, his ready communication, and his enthusiasm.”

From its early stages, the project sparked interest among students who either assisted in the sculpture work or helped spread the word beyond campus. Kerrie Bellisario, a senior at the art school when the project was starting, heard about it through her library job and soon got involved as a liaison for the press and a guide for visiting groups.

“Jinichi Ito taught me basic carving techniques, and with a group of schoolchildren we did some carving on one leg of the Fudo,” she recalled. “Seeing the Fudo, carving it, and being introduced to Japanese culture was such an eye-opening experience for the children.”

Bellisario went on to visit Japan a number of times while organizing an international art exhibit in Hiroshima, a collaboration with other students from the sculpture project that became an important early step toward her career as a design teacher and international curator.

“If it weren’t for the Fudo project which led to the Bridge (program in Hiroshima), I can’t imagine what path my life would have taken,” she said.

More than a year after getting under way, the team finished its detailed carving work and assembled the unpainted figure at its full height for the first time in 1991.

The lacquering, painting, gold leaf work and other finishing touches were completed after a six- month hiatus, during which arrangements were made to donate the piece to Becton, Dickinson and Company for its headquarters in northern New Jersey, where it still stands today.

Every few years, conservators visit the medical technology company’s 140-acre (about 567,000-square-meter) campus to attend to the statue, removing dust with special squirrel-hair brushes and reapplying gold leaf as necessary.

“I’m grateful the piece continues to be cared for so well, and also for the open-mindedness of everyone who embraced the project in the first place,” Hashimoto said.

“Although we couldn’t readily express in English what we wanted to share, the experience let us communicate with American people whose kindness and curiosity about the world we will never forget.”

Following completion of the project, Hashimoto continued to sculpt fine-art pieces that have appeared in shows across Japan and abroad, while Ito resumed his work in temple carpentry.

Yanagimoto, alongside whom Hashimoto had apprenticed under the late Japanese Order of Culture- winning sculptor Seiko Sawada, has since become a university professor.

The deity Fudo Myo-O, known as Acala in the Hindu tradition where it originated, gained prominence in Japanese Buddhism over a thousand years ago, particularly in the burnt-offering ceremonies of the Shingon sect.

The protector god was depicted in wood sculptures in Japan as early as the 9th century, with larger figures in a standing position appearing in the 11th century as the joined-block technique advanced.

Myokei Matsumoto, a well-known Japanese sculptor of Buddhist images, is reportedly at work on a wooden Fudo in excess of 10 meters for a temple in Saitama Prefecture, with completion expected around the opening of the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020.”

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.

Framed Art Restoration in Delray Beach

Three Framed Art Worksframed art restoration

Just returned from a week in sunny Delray Beach, Florida, restoring 3 framed art works for 2 private collectors.

These works are important pieces by Michael Singer. They are among his earliest works-on-paper from the 1970’s. At that time, in his 20’s, he was not always concerned with paper quality or the importance of acid-free materials for long-term preservation. These 2 collectors, aware of the need for these works to be better preserved, asked me to provide a little TLC.

Meanwhile, my wife relaxed on the gorgeous beaches, and we were graciously hosted by the artist who is also an amazing chef!

The Project

Over 4 days, each artwork was carefully inspected and disassembled. Old foam core and cardboard that was not acid-free and a plywood backing were replaced with new museum-quality materials. Wooden backings were re-glued at all of their joints. Then the artwork was closely inspected to remove any dust or other extraneous material that found their way between the artwork and its protective glass over the many years that these works have been on display in the homes of their owners. How dust and microscopic-sized bugs get into framed art is a mystery to me.

Art work framingThen I attached the artwork to new foam core backing with special Japanese paper hinges and extra custom-made holders that further secure these unusually heavy collages without being seen.

Custom-made iron frames, beautifully aged and even slightly rusted in spots, were cleaned and lacquered. The rust was not removed as the artist likes the look. Special spacers were placed between the plexiglass and the artwork, underneath the border of the frame and out of sight of the viewer, in order that the art no longer touches the plexiglass. This further preserves the art.

Two of these works are in fine condition. One caused me a brief moment of art conservation horror! Instead of non-acid-free foam core or cardboard which is concerning enough, this piece was backed by a thin sheet of plywood. The resins from the wood and the glue used to laminate plywood can damage paper worse than just about anything else! Consequently, over time the outer edges of the artwork have yellowed but not too badly. Replacing this ply with acid-free foam core will delay any further yellowing.

All the work involved in this restoration process was formally documented and sent to the collectors for insurance and appraisal purposes.

The Angel

Arts Management Services in Delray BeachThese non-matted works did not, at first glance, need any replacement plexiglass, but upon removal clearly did. This little extra detail became a big factor as I searched the local and surrounding glass and framing businesses for replacement plexi of the large and thin dimensions that I needed.

Not easily found! And I had a plane to catch in 2 days for my next project! After over a dozen calls and even a visit to a business that had just gone out-of-business, I found just what I wanted thanks to Melissa at Delray Art & Framing Center. She went the extra mile to be sure I received exactly what I wanted and sooner than I expected. Once in a while along my travels I meet special people that I’ll never forget. She’s one of them!

At the end of it all I cleaned the glass of any fingerprints I may have left plus fine lint and dust that accumulates even in the minutes between removing the protective film and placing it over the artwork. I use a special solution that does not damage the plexiglass while removing dust, dirt and static electricity. Plus the screws that hold the frame together were replaced with black-headed ones that match the frame.

Arts Management Services in Delray BeachFinally I inspected the equipment used to display the art on the walls – hangers and lights – applying minor adjustments.

One of my clients, Louise and Herbert, knowing I was versed in the repair of art pools asked me to check their newly repaired outdoor hot tub. Despite my busy schedule I managed to squeeze in a couple minutes at no extra charge.

By the way, Herb and Louise, whose last names I will not mention in respect of their privacy, were the most enjoyable clients I have ever worked for. Herb’s stories are absolutely priceless!

The Surprise

Arts Management Services in Delray BeachWhen I returned to my office I checked to be sure these framed art works are included in Mr. Singers registry, a project he commissioned me to assemble and keep updated. This is an ongoing project begun 5 years ago and including archival descriptions of all of his works of art – sculpture as well as drawings.

One surprise was discovering that the artist had lightly painted a very thin coat of grey over the surface of one frame. This is not something I observed in any other of his framed art. When I asked Michael about it he replied, “I have no idea why that frame is painted!”

This last photo shows me with my favorite employee, accountant, trip advisor and photographer, my wife Bonnie Cueman who took some time out from her busy schedule to accompany me on this trip! By the way, all the photos in this post are by Bonnie.

Sculpture Repair at the Winfield House

Our Sculpture Repair Starts With a Conditions Report & Repair Estimate

Brief trip to London last month to inspect the indoor and outdoor sculpture at the US Embassy and the Ambassador’s residence at the Winfield House. I return this coming August for sculpture repair.

The 1 Ton Eagle

sculpture repair - arts management services

First stop was the 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, 2 thousand pound aluminum “Eagle” by Theodore Roszak that perches 6 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, for the neighborhood now insists that the building and especially the eagle remain.

So the Qarari businessman has agreed to restore the building rather than tear it down as originally planned to replace it with 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 were applied? Did any of those coats contain metal? It is often described as ‘guilt’ – 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 repairs 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 repair 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 repair 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 2 weeks repairing the works 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 acquired 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 2 eagles with our copies and no one will even notice!

Art Repair at the Denver International Airport

Back Again for More Art Repair!

Denver Airport Art Repair

This is the latest of several visits to Denver International Airport (DIA) for the art repair and maintenance of the Michael Singer sculpture in Concourse C.

On at least two occasions since the sculpture was installed in 1994 irrigation has failed and the art has been removed to repair or replace the irrigation. In these instances I set the artwork back in place. On another occasion, rot required the repair and replacement of several elements.

This is always a delightful project as the staff of DIA are wonderful.

Critics Love It!

art repair of Michael Singer sculpture

Here’s what one local has written about this striking work of art:

“In 1994 nature took over the 650 square meter Concourse C within the Denver International Airport and changed the usual anonymous, expected airport in both a dramatic and evocative way.

Singer’s public art project brought nature into the antiseptic airport setting by creating a vast, indoor garden, in which various climbing plants creep up the walls and across the concrete surfaces.  There is, on the whole, a multitude of intense connections between the non-linear growth elements and the more linear structures in the sculptural forms.

The garden can be viewed from the level above, where there is a McDonald’s restaurant and other fast food shops, a fascinating contrast. Singer comments, “the garden is covered with vines, ferns, all manner of growth. It becomes a living ecology, and therefore a complete contradiction to its surroundings.”   The garden, akin to the Japanese Zen-gardens, can be viewed from several vantage points but is not open and available directly to the public, which gives it a mysterious air.

However, it establishes a network of expressive, contrasting effects in its grey, cold surroundings.  The moss-covered surfaces in the northeastern end of the space lead one’s thoughts to the Moss Gardens in Kyoto, creating a poetic Japanese reference.”

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And here’s what the artist says about his ‘Atrium Garden:’

“Concourse C of the Denver International Airport was re-imagined as a garden oasis within the steel and concrete cathedral-like core of the building. The garden encompasses the entire circulation space where passengers enter and exit the airport train connecting the concourse to the main airport terminal. On the lower level, adjacent to the trains, is a sculpted 7,000 square foot plaza of patterned inlaid granite and copper. Exiting the train one immediately steps upon this patterned plaza and can see hints of the garden above where the sculpted walls emerge from the platforms above the trains. As one travels up the stairs or escalator to the main concourse level the garden slowly emerges as two surrounding stepped gardens bounded by sculpted walls. The two facing gardens, each built over the train system below, frame the entire circulation core, creating the experience of ascending into the garden from below or descending into the garden from above (when returning to the main terminal). The design of the garden takes advantage of this unique experiential space with a layering of multiple sculptural levels and details that are sequentially revealed by moving through the building and ultimately understood as a whole by viewing the entire interior garden from above.

Repair of Sculpture at DIA

The two 2,500 square foot gardens are sculpted from stone, wood, concrete panels, stucco, soil and vegetation. The walls of the garden space are fifteen feet high and constructed at an angle, creating the illusion of deep hallow spaces behind the walls. Carefully selected vines climb and weave through the patinated walls and over the ground plane and sculptural elements. A moss garden is placed at the northeast end of the space, in other areas ferns abound. During periods of growth the garden vegetation can overtake the sculptural elements, leaving only traces and glimpses of the complex pieces below, and creating the sense of an archeological ruin. In the original construction irrigation water was allowed to wet the sculptural elements creating small pools of water within the garden, making the interior garden seem as though it were outdoors.

This project was restored in 2007 at the request of Denver International Airport. Prior to the restoration Michael Singer Studio received numerous inquires about the gardens expressing concern that the irrigation system had been turned off and the garden was dying. Several individuals, including travelers and people who work in the concourse noted that the gardens were also providing a refuge for birds trapped within the airport. They feared without the garden that the birds might not survive. In part due to these inquires, the waterproofing and irrigation systems were upgraded and the gardens were restored and re-planted.”

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My team and I completed the latest art repair, restoring it to the artist’s original intent.

The moss in one of the central concrete and wood elements did not establish itself despite the special addition of buttermilk to the concrete mixture which fosters moss growth on concrete. This failure was due to a lack of moisture. The irrigation has never been able to deliver enough moisture to this area. So artificial moss is now used and surprisingly looks quite nice.

It’s a beautiful airport terminal complex with lots of wonderful art. I highly recommend visiting DIA even if you’re not flying.

Art Restoration at the US Consulate in Istanbul

Art Restoration of Sculptures by Maya Lin


Art Restoration in Istanbul
‘Analemmatic Sundial’ by Maya Lin

It took three trips to our Consulate in Istanbul over 2 years (2013 and ’14) to complete the art restoration of 2 large sculptures by Maya Lin, famous for creating the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC.

All went better than imagined, and I owe it all to a brilliant maintenance staff who just wouldn’t give up on the multitude of challenges and ‘hidden conditions,’​ and to Jim Wenzel from the State Dept who’s that rare administrator who loves to get his hands dirty, and to my employer Jenn Duncan, Director of FAPE (Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies), who always had positive things to say!

The sculptures are now in excellent condition after nearly 12 years in disrepair. Most importantly, the staff know all the ‘secrets’ for keeping these works running well without the further expense of my services.

A Little History

Maya Lin created these sculptures for our consulate in Istanbul in 2003. These works were commissioned by FAPE.

She recently lectured at Smith College where I had the pleasure of introducing myself and telling her about the repairs – a nice brief chat and a truly impressive individual.

FAPE is a non-profit organization that raises funds – so that no taxpayer dollars are involved – to commission permanent works of American art for our embassies and consulates worldwide. For 30 years, FAPE has contributed to the U.S. Department of State’s mission of cultural diplomacy by partnering with American artists whose works encourage cross-cultural understanding.

Behind the Scenes

art restoration by Arts Management Services

It wasn’t a routine art restoration!

Sometimes fixing a work of art is little more than a careful brush stroke. Not this time. Over 15 tons of granite was lifted, cleaned, repaired and put back together without anything breaking or anyone getting hurt!

And it wasn’t just any artwork! It’s an important piece by an important artist. These are two early works by Maya Lin in which large and quiet pools of water first appear to become central elements in her subsequent sculpture.

I’d seen many of her other wonderful pieces. These were special!

Strange Karma!

Here’s the weird thing.

First, Maya Lin once stayed with my good friend, the artist Michael Singer, very early on when she was still a young architecture student at Yale. She had just won the design competition for the Vietnam Memorial. This astonishing award would catapult her to worldwide fame. Michael provided her a last and final brief moment of anonymity.

As if that weren’t serendipitous enough, another close friend knew her, too! His brother had dated Maya in college.

So I felt strangely chosen to resurrect these damaged and lost things of great beauty.

Unusual Challenges

Art Restoration of Maya Lin Sculpture

There were leaks, but no one knew where exactly despite years of study. And no one would ever know until someone took the whole thing apart! Even Jenn’s optimism and our track record of success with other challenging projects wasn’t giving me much confidence.

I love challenges but this was over the top. Would a long career of successes come to a crashing halt!

Both sculptures had been in disrepair since shortly after their completion over a decade ago. FAPE commissioned the artist and the State Dept hired the contractor, a contractor who cut corners! And so it leaked from the very beginning, leaked too much to ‘turn on’ except for very special and infrequent occasions.

I could rail about the madness of greed that just can’t spend $100 to finish a job properly even after being wildly overpaid! And I’d be right. But the truth was that I wouldn’t be visiting this marvelous city, wouldn’t meet and work with these wonderful people, and wouldn’t have yet another thrilling project, had it not been for this corrupt contractor! Life is strange. Life is good.

The Pieces

These 2 sculptures are large outdoor art works made of the beautiful granite native to Turkey and inspired by the sundial, a history-changing invention which has been traced back to Turkey’s ancestors.

One huge fountain greets employees and visitors as they enter the consulate. The other calms and enchants employees in an inner courtyard. Both had languished for years rarely ever filled with water or lit with their impressive array of lights except when the Secretary of State visited or on a Fourth of July celebration.

I make a living off of sculptures that involve water. Nature filters water naturally, but not sculptures. They need help. Pumps and filters prevent the buildup of debris and algae, but they must be cared for regularly or they break down. Electricity must be completely coated with special waterproof material or bad things happen. And what holds the water must be specially coated or it leaks. Even with the best care, coatings and pumps get old and die. Sculptures have lives.

And there is a secret about fountains – one must never seek perfection. There will always be a leak somewhere, and one must not waste time and money curing the smallest leaks. But no leak should be so great as to be wasteful. So the restoration of a fountain is a delicate matter: like a Persian rug, you must leave a tiny flaw, for only Allah is perfect.

Four Miracles!

Art Repair in Istanbul
‘Equatorial Sundial’ by Maya Lin

We’d done lots of tests and calculations and had a strong idea where the leak was located but no one had actually seen it. Then came the miracles!

The first one appeared as a wild engineer out of nowhere! Jim Wenzel from the State Dept. He’s in charge of preserving all the antiques and works of art throughout our government, from priceless paintings in the White House to antique furniture in distant embassies. With 294 US embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions across the world, there is a vast collection of valuable antiques, works of art, gifts and historic architecture to care for. His department and FAPE work in partnership to preserve these assets.

This guy’s supposed to be shuffling paper behind some desk. Instead here he is lending a hand even with the dirtiest job, even in the rain, and with engineering know-how that turned out to be critical to the success of the job – he figured out where the leaks were!

The second miracle was a quiet plumber named Demir. He was fluent in English. I knew no Turkish. He tried to teach me a few words each day but I was hopeless. I needed numerous materials too dangerous or heavy or weird to ship from the States. He’d take off and soon be back with exactly what I needed or better, and do it cheerfully many times a day so that my work remained focused and uninterrupted!

The 3rd miracle was Taric, a young guy forced to escort me all the time. All visitors to our foreign missions no matter what their purpose must be escorted for security reasons, even to the bathroom. I was worried. I needed another special person like Demir, but this time someone very experienced to operate a crane. You see, no one understood what was really going on here – no one seemed to realize the real danger involved in moving huge pieces of rock that could kill someone if not handled properly.

Turns out Tamir was some kind of angel sent to protect us all! He was a master at interpreting my frantic hand gestures, my fearful expressions, and my every infidel prayer, as he manned the controls of the crane better than I ever hoped for, delicately lifting huge slabs without even once making a mistake that risked severing straps and dropping the load to shatter or worse! Not one of over 30 huge pieces ever received so much as a scratch!

Then appears Serkan, the electrician! Not just any electrician. Years ago when the sculpture was built, custom lights were made out of a new technology at the time called LED. It was an expensive choice costing hundreds of dollars for each light fixture, and there were dozens of lights. But it was a wise choice at the time because LED lights use very little electricity and last a long time.

But 12 years later many lights no longer worked, and the original manufacturer was not in business. I knew that somehow we could improvise and find a solution, but I needed an electrician who thinks outside the box, someone who could somehow fit new LEDs into old irreplaceable custom fixtures. He did it, creating new fixtures at $6 each instead of $500!

And so we are all well and 2 sculptures are like new! Thanks to my new friends, Jim Wenzel, Demir Kurt, Tarik Albayrak and Serkan Duran. Sezer Yucel and Rasim Ozdemir relieved my aging shoulders of some of the worst work! Their boss, Facilities Maintenance Supervisor Mustafa Unal, a better administrator I’ve never met!

Another challenging art restoration accomplished.