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.
Days before we closed for Christmas break, I visited a church to refurbish the carved symbols on the altar. These were of the alpha and omega, with a Pelican in the centre, feeding its young.
The Carving of the Pelican was looking rather dull. It was lost in a sea of beautiful deep green marble. The story it was meant to tell had become unreadable.
The P.P. wanted to revive that story, so that he could better explain the Eucharist to the children.
The story goes something like this:
In medieval times, it was thought that the Pelican preened feathers from her breast until it bled. With her own blood, she fed her young chicks to ensure their survival.
The Pelican became a symbol of the Eucharist; Christ feeding the faithful with His own body and blood.
I might add to the story by saying "Strengthened and matured, the young birds find that they have the strength to leave the earthly nest and soar heavenward."
The source of this legend has been lost in time, yet it gave rise to the intriguing Catholic symbol we see in our churches today.
The following set of stations of the cross belong to a London Church.
Father wanted them to look as beautiful as possible, but hold back on some areas where damage was minimum to retain their sense of age.
I think this was the right approach, as the stations were new in 1858, and part of their beauty was in their age.
The figures which make up the tableaus, are beautifully carved, and originate from Belgium or Germany. As with many old church pieces their provenance has been lost with the passage of time.
We restored the figures where paint had flaked, and replaced missing spears and clubs.
The spires and gilded acanthus leaves were broken, along with some of the crosses topping the frames. We found that the wooden frames had been more colourful, the tan brown which now predominated was not original, but a change made just after the war.
It appeared that when the stations has been restored in 1948, new back grounds had been added, perhaps the originals had deteriorated to such an extent that this was deemed necessary.
The image below shows the crudity of this " new" addition compared to the attention given to the frames and figures.
When we visit various churches, parishioners often tell us how unhappy they are about the scenic element to their stations of the cross having been painted out altogether.
We felt it important to address this problem, not only to restore some of the original integrity of the artworks, but also to enhance the story - telling aspect of the set. (That is the Catechetical element.)
The following images show the eleventh and twelfth stations with backgrounds re-painted in th spirit of the originals.
Above: Damaged processional statue after restoration .
A recent request to restore a statue of Our lady for a May procession, proved a bit more of a challenge than usual. The face had lost its shape beneath layers of paint. The broken hands sported broken thumbs which had been replaced with "plaster sausages."
The lining on the mantle was textured with old repairs resembling a gold-painted rock fall.
The condition of this statue was rather poor, considering it for a decent burial seemed the kindest thing to do. However, the statue held memories for a number of parishioners, and so we did all we could to save it.
In this particular case, old paint had to be removed to reveal the true nature and extent of any damage. This would ensure that repairs would be sound and thorough. The inner walls were strengthened and her face remodeled along with her thumbs.
After many hours work, the statue looks good again, the surface of the gold mantle is smooth and her face pretty again -she will serve as a processional statue few more years yet!
Left: plastering over old paint makes for a poor repair, with low adhesion. It has made the thumb too large for the hand.
A section of the statue wall, compared with a two pound coin.
Reverse of the statue shows the split in thin plaster wall, and damage to the hands
A cracked neck suggested that the face may have been damaged when the head had fallen off at an earlier date. Nose, mouth and eyelids had to be rebuilt.
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Bar Convent Madonna
Manchester Oratory (1)
Gilbert Scott Reredos (1)
Symbol of Pelican
Our Lady of Walsingham symbolism
Sculpting Mary's hand
Sculpting the Madonna
Sculpture of Risen Christ
Sculpting St. Catherine
Plaster corpus restored
Family nativity set
Nativity shepherd & flute
School "Fatima" statue
Five new Icons
English Martyrs Mural
Processional for May
St. Anthony's book & Bread
Catholic statue repair & church artworks by Lewis and Lewis:
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