Each year I receive emails asking if I would consider providing courses in statue repair. I hope this post helps those interested in repairing their smaller plaster figures, and provide some useful tips. The post is written for beginner level.
Please note that this post is advisory only, all decisions taken to restore a statue are in the hands (quite literally) of the person restoring it.
Beginners inform me that they successfully use spackle from the DIY store which they sand to shape when dry. It is something I have never used on statuary myself, part due to my dad having worked with plaster all his life, I inherited his affinity with it, and it has never occured to me to use anything else.
Statues must be cleaned before they are restored. This helps the paint to adhere to the surface.
A variety of different types of paint may have been used on the statue and so caution is required. A warm damp cloth which has a little tooth such as a microfibre cloth can be useful here. Do not over-wet the figure. If paint begins to run, or peel, then halt the process. Stains which are ingrained cannot be removed, and these surfaces can only be improved by re-painting.
Preparation for painting can begin once the surface is dry .
A fine grade sandpaper can be used. Great care must be taken not to flatten off any subtle modelling in the flesh areas, such as toes, and noses.
Before painting, ensure any deposits of dust are removed. This can be done with a soft paint brush. Good preparation is a must for achieving lasting results.
When readers ask me how they might improve their painting skills, I have to reply "Practice and observation". These are key to all artistic practices, the more you do the better your work will become.
Extra attention should be given when it comes to painting eyes well. Beginners can give a statue a startled look by placing the iris too centrally onto the eye ball or "orbit".
Although a depiction of dear St. Winifred about to have her head chopped off, could be considered an exception!
Avoid startled eyes, and those pointing in opposite directions!
Due to the rising trend in crafts and hobbies, there are many paints now available with their accompanying non-yellowing varnishes available on the market. Online art shops provide a wide selection of options. Two paint types to avoid on plaster are watercolours, and in particular oil based or gloss paints. Both would have an adverse affect on the underlying plaster.
This small statuette of Saint Joan, (my own patron saint), is beautifully modeled. Her banner was broken and the paintwork shabby.
The decoration on her banner looked a little sad, with the names "JHESUS" and "MARIA" painted in a commonplace manner.
Joan loved her banner, because in holding it, she did not hold a weapon.
During her trial, Joan was asked which she loved best, her sword or her banner, to which she answered :
" It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man."
Her captors asked her if carrying of the banner was her own idea, she replied that Saint Catherine and Saint Marguerite had told her ;
"that she should take and carry the Standard boldly on the part of the King of Heaven."
The flag was therefore decorated in a manner which honoured the king of heaven. One contemporary account of 1429, by the merchant Morosini described it thus:
“she carries also a white standard on which Our Triune Lord holds in one hand the world and the other is raised in blessing. On each side (of Christ) is an angel who presents Him a fleurs de lys, as the symbol of the kings of France.”
I think it is a good thing to be historically accurate, where this is practical. This statuette is displayed in a small church, and so I enriched the banner with the image of Christ enthroned, flanked by angels.
An older statue may undergo a number of makeovers during its existence; some better than others. Eventually, it becomes something the artist never intended.
This statue belongs to a school, and some of its pupils may be future artists who will be inspired by the art they see. Here is an example of a four year old's interpretation of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. Look at the concern the child has captured
in Veronica's eyes, as she reaches out to a tearful Jesus.
Long faced saints
This statue of St.Chad had been repaired several times, with adverse affects to its appearance.
The shape of the chin was overly large, and the upper lip sagged.
The resulting caricature was not the sort of long face one wants to see on a Monday school morning...its possible that it had been adapted from a popular bearded saint, to a clean shaven one.
Musing on the reason for his dour expression, it was noted that the mitre was rather pinched. It appeared to have shrunk in the wash, perhaps causing the saint a headache. I pondered how the mitre could look if corrected...
The other problems included a broken crozier, and twisted arm.
The arm had been formed from a grey putty. As plaster and putty are not compatible, they would never "marry up" and the break at the elbow would be permanent if it were not removed.
I used a hack saw to remove the miscreant limb, and modeled a replacement in clay. From this I produced a plaster cast, and attached the new limb with a new internal support iron.
Completing the makeover
Once all of the "messy" repair works were complete, I was able to prep the statue in readiness for its re-decoration. The photo below shows how truncated the arm had become due to old repairs.
The mitre was remodelled to fit, and lower jaw reduced.
Early medieval Bishop vestments
Early medieval bishops would have worn a dalmatic, although these are often painted as cottas. The difference between the two, is that one will have an obvious fringing, and the latter a lace hem.
This small statue of St.Chad had the fringe with open sides, meaning he was wearing the dalmatic.
With the arm now at the correct length, I could add the dalmatic sleeve to his blessing arm, which completed the makeover.
With so much restoration work to accomplish, we occasionally take a little time out to produce a few of our own exclusive artworks and make them available for purchase. For 2019 two copies of the Risen Christ statue (sculpt and poly chromed by myself) will be available. This statue is 38 inches (97 cm) tall and cast in plaster.
It is a new edition of an earlier model.
My vision for the Risen Christ Statue
Jesus has risen from the tomb, and floats above the stony earth.
His posture is heroic, his gaze steady and re-assuring. His foot barely touches the ground. His white garments trail the ground as he ascends.
His right hand is turned in a gesture of openness, His wounds clearly visible. The fabric has loosened from his right shoulder, and a light breeze swells his mantle giving a sense of freedom and weightlessness.
His left arm appears tightly bound with fabric like the winding cloth of a shroud. He points to the wound in his side as though to say; " See and believe!"
Ordering a Copy of this statue
If you are interested in obtaining one of our "Risen Christ" statues in time for Easter of this year, orders and a deposit must be in by Candlemass - February 2nd.
We can cast our figures to order by special request, - a lead time of two months is required for the casting and polychroming of one of our unique figures. Please contact us for further details.
(Easter Sunday 2019 is on the 21st of April.)
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