Reflections on Restoring an Art-Deco Lamp and Disguising Pits

It has been a busy week at Antique Bronze. I’ve completed an Art-Deco lamp which had been hit by a lorry and am finishing the restoration of a small bronze- plated sculpture scarred by galvanic corrosion.

Damage to an Art-Deco Lamp hit by a LorryThe Art-Deco lamp will have some follow-up posts as there were some difficulties I had when restoring it  – particularly trying to find the perfect filler. I usually mix my own with bronze dust and polyester resin, but this wasn’t suitable for this particular object. Finding a good copper-alloy filler that will take a patinated finish,  won’t corrode the bronze, and has some flexibility in it,  will be a future mission. Watch this space!

The small statue was interesting as it had a raised corrosion layer much like a form of bronze acne. Other than these small pimples, the surface was in good condition.  The cause of the corrosion originated with something acidic being sprayed across the statue’s surface, which etched the thin brass layer and caused a reaction between the two differing metal layers that made up the statue’s form: an outer layer of brass with an inner core of iron. Read more about galvanic corrosion on Antique Bronze’s blog.

Corrosion on a bronze
Galvanic corrosion on a plated statue

The corrosion was hard and I found the best way to remove it was by breaking its structure using a very fine file,  but as the corrosion broke up, it revealed a small pit. Now the struggle was how to lesson the disfiguration of the pitting. Re-surfacing the statue would be one way, but that’s highly interventive and not my approach. I tried mixing some pigment with a hard beeswax to fill the crevices, but as the surface was otherwise smooth – any slight excess of wax was detectable. Instead, I warmed the surface to drive off any moisture and applied soft clear wax into the pits using it like a filler. The soft wax was easier to wipe from the surface so didn’t result in the same build up as the hard wax had. Leaving it to harden, I later burnished and reapplied another layer. Finally, I lightly stippled with a little wax tinted with earth pigment over the pits and the results are shown below.

pitting harmonised
Pits are harmonised

 

 

A Cheap Trick To Prevent Metals in Storage Being Damaged by Volatile Gases – (Notes to Self Series)

Acid-detector strips can be included in packing containers and work well to detect volatile organic gases by using a reflectance spectrophotometer. I love the fact that analysis tools sound like they’ve been invented by one of the writer’s of Doctor Who. If you haven’t come across one of these little devices before, click here to read more.

Organic gases such as acetic and formic acid are particularly damaging to lead and copper alloy objects so these very inexpensive strips which show results within a couple of days could save significant damage occurring to an object.

Damage to Lead from Organic Vapours

Damage to Lead

They do not provide direct readings, but change colour to indicate the range of pH being encountered i.e. blue to green to yellow as pH becomes more acidic.  They are sensitive to higher levels of relative humidity, but much less so with low RH. They are tolerant of quite a wide fluctuation in temperature.  They should not touch the object, but being inexpensive can be placed around the container to help to identify gas sources.

Full Article by Stephen Hackney. Colour Measurement of Acid-Detector Strips For The Quantification of Volatile Organic Acids in Storage Conditions. Studies in Conservation 61, Sup 1, 55-69. 2016

 

10 Reasons Why Conservation Employers Look for Short Courses on Your CV

1 Short courses show a candidate has initiative.

Employers always want to hire critical thinkers, and short courses demonstrate precisely this skill set. Having a short-course on your CV indicates that you identified a gap in your knowledge, sought out a sound solution and followed through.

 

Conservation Courses
Short courses show you are a critical thinker

2 Short Courses Go Deep

The content of short courses tends to be narrow and targeted. Employers value in-depth knowledge because that’s the best type to be harnessed. You can share your learning with your co-workers, and the organisation can offer those new skills as part of the team’s capabilities, which adds value and potential profit to the department.

 

3 Short courses are relevant.

Convincing an employer that you have the relevant skills for the job is tough. Employers want a lot – excellent conservation skills with a side helping of associated know-how like project management, PR training or web skills. If you want to secure a job which has a focus on a particular skill, a conservation degree may seem too general to clinch it.  Deborah Cane, Conservation Manager Sculpture and Art Installation at Tate, said ‘It can help to determine levels of practical skills as a candidate may not have been able to experience a wide range of materials during their training.’ Showing you’ve attended a short course is a way of highlighting that you have precisely the skills an employer desires.

Add value by increasing your skill set

4 Short courses enable you to multitask.

Attending a three-year degree is a significant time commitment, and often when you graduate and move on to your first interview, you will be met with that old chestnut, ‘What experience do you have?’ Recently, I met a very impressive young man who was brave enough to step away from the traditional educational route and learn through short courses. Over the duration of two years, he had a dizzying list of short courses to his name, and he had been able to take work experience opportunities that arose between courses. When his turn came to answer the dreaded question – he served up a portfolio equally weighted between academics and work experience. Result: Hired!

5 Short courses are great value for money.

At around £9000 per year tuition fees at university – just think how many highly relevant short courses a student could attend for the princely sum of £27,000 – the equivalent of 3 years of study. John Rushworth MD of Restore London says, ‘Short courses are a cost effective way to improve skills, and they are not too time-consuming.’

6 Short courses are network hubs.

Meeting people on short courses is an excellent way to make valuable contacts. Groups are usually small so getting acquainted couldn’t be easier, and the conversation is unlikely to be stilted as you all have a mutual interest. Remember an employer isn’t just hiring you, but also your contacts so if you strike up a rapport with some other great professionals – you’re adding value to your organisation’s circle without any extra effort for them.

 7 Employers know you learn more on a short course.

Short courses tend to be conducted in small groups. Everyone knows that small-group education is the best way to learn. Why else do politicians always make promises about reducing class sizes at election time? You are likely to retain more, participate more and remember more from small-group learning.

8 Short courses can inspire you anew.

If your degree was twenty years ago, the chances are that your charismatic course leader’s touch may have worn thin. Short courses can give you that spark of inspiration which keeps the fire burning in our professional lives.

9 Short courses are ideal if you are time poor.

Your course tutor is likely to be an expert in their particular field and will have come across many resources during their working life. Attending the course means you partake of their expertise, but you are also likely to get a tonne of resources that they have put together for you. These titbits will save you hours of trawling through journals and websites – it’s good time management

Photo by Dineshraj Goomany, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

10 Short courses demonstrate a commitment to CPD.

Attending short courses shows that you are living the ACR ethos of continued professional development. It illustrates that you have a sincere interest in your career and are not just satisfied with the status quo. Rod Titian of Titian Studios summed it up well, ‘Attending short courses shows that you are not pompous enough to think you know everything. The best conservator/restorers are learning all the time.’

Lucy Branch is a sculptural and architectural features conservator and has been a Director of Antique Bronze Ltd for over twenty years. Join her in June on The Conservation of Immovable Bronze Objects

 

 

10 Ways To Look After Your Small Bronzes at Home

Small bronzes housed indoors have an easy time of it compared to their large companions outdoors in the public arena. They are sheltered from the urban air and ever-changing weather, but their environment still has an impact on them and if you want to keep your small bronzes as stable as possible then consider these 10 tips.

1: Dust Regularly – Don’t be frightened of touching a bronze just because it’s an artwork. If you use a dry micro-fibre cloth or a soft bristle brush you’ll be doing a lot of good rather than harm. Removing dirt and grime prevents prevents reactions between the pollutants in dust and the metal’s surface. We all hate more housework, but it will avoid the start of pockets of localised corrosion happening over time. Prevention is always better than cure.

2: At least once a year, give the statue a thorough clean and apply some wax. Putting a barrier layer in place is one of the best ways of protecting a bronze’s surface. Outdoor pollutants from traffic and the outdoor such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and ozone, do infiltrate buildings. Over time, they will corrode your bronzes (Grontoft et al, 2016). Rub on micro-crystalline wax and burnish with a bristle brush or cotton rag as you might your shoes. It will improve the bronze’s lustre and retard surface change.

3: Internal materials like wooden floorboards and furniture emit acidic gases such as acetic or formic acid. These will damage your bronzes particularly if air flow is static and where temperature of a room is likely to fluctuate widely. Consider where you locate your small bronzes and try not to display them in sealed cabinets made from materials containing hard and soft woods or plywood (Gibson, 2010)

4: Avoid handling your bronzes. If possible, lift your bronzes with a clean cloth rather than touch them directly. Sweat from the hands is acidic and will corrode metal easily penetrating a thin barrier layer like wax.

5: If you are storing a small bronze rather than displaying it. Ensure that the packaging materials are suitable. Do not wrap bronzes directly in bubble wrap or plastic. Houses tend to have poor humidity controls and though it might surprise you – bronzes do hold water. When they heat up that water will evaporate and if you’ve trapped it in plastic – you’ll get corrosion overload happening beneath that plastic.

6: If you accidentally spill red wine, tea, coke or even water on your bronze – don’t ignore it! Just because it’s not a textile that stains – don’t assume that the liquid won’t do any harm. If you whip it off quickly then harm is averted, but leave it to dry out and the metal will etch in the perfect shape of the drip, splash or spill. A little warm water on a clean cloth as dry as possible will enable you to remove the liquid and save your bronze surface. Don’t forget to dry your bronze after you’ve washed it though and replace the wax.

7: Admire your bronze often – don’t ignore it. If you keep an eye on your bronzes you will notice if there is any change occurring. Although we all like a beautiful mature patina on a bronze, if the bronze is starting to change within a short period of time then the chances are it is being exposed to something that isn’t doing it a lot of good. Be mindful and you could prevent a bigger conservation problem.

8: Think about where you locate your bronze. If a bronze is in a busy area of the house, its chances of being knocked, and scuffed rise considerably. Bronze looks tough, but often small bronzes have delicate sculptural detail and one bang can see sections break off or snap. Dents are very hard to remove successfully. Drafts also carry outdoor pollutants inside and humidity is likely to peak and trough more which won’t do your bronzes any good.

9: If you want to give your bronze the Rolls Royce treatment then a high-spec display case made with materials that do not emit gases will go a long way. Though undoubtedly an expense, it has been shown that cases with robust seals prevents traffic pollution getting in, provides extra security if you are burgled, prevents household damage like spills and knocks. A low and stable relative humidity under 40% is ideal.  It’s also  wise to add a little activated carbon into the base of the case in order to absorb any stray pollutants.

10: If you notice a greenish, powdery deposit on your bronze which is easily brushed away, but returns quickly – get it to a conservator ASAP! This is active corrosion and needs quick, skilled treatment to prevent metal loss.

If you would like help or advice on your small bronze, call Antique Bronze Ltd on 0208-340-0931

References:

Terje Grontoft, David Thickett, Paul Lankester, Stephen Hackney, Joyce H. Townsend, Kristin Ramsholt & Monica Garrido. “Assessment of Indoor Air Quality and the Risk of Damage to Cultural Heritage Objects using MEMORI dosimetry” Studies in Conservation 61:sup 1, 70-82. Routledge & IIC 2016 Link Here

Gibson, L.T. (2010) Acetic and formic acids emitted from wood samples and their effect on selected materials in museum environments. Corrosion Science, 52 (1). pp. 172-178. ISSN 0010-938X