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.
This 40 inch plaster nativity set needed some TLC. It had become rather grubby and damaged with years of handling.
As work began, we found a number of " shortcuts" had been taken in the past. The ends of this shepherds, bagpipes had broken, and the remaining stub painted over. The pipes were rather truncated and needed to be rebuilt.
So here are three stages of my re-building the missing "chanters" or pipes.
(fig 1.) the proposed correction far left,
(fig 2.) Supports fitted to rebuild the mouth of chanters and fingers,
(fig 3.) Shaping the fingers to match the originals.
Partial restoration requires that the restorer has to prioritise which areas need her attention most. Old repairs even if unsightly or poorly modeled, sometimes have to remain if they are sound.
However, this king's crown was too prominent a feature to over look.
Just as the bag pipes, the central point was broken and over painted in an attempt to disguise the break. It spoiled the king's regal appearance, and was a definite candidate for renewal!
So here are the stages of correcting the old repair;- I'm sure you will agree that the appearance is much improved.
And so, let us return to the "pipe-less" shepherd...
With the missing chanters re-built, The shepherd definitely appears to be playing a musical instrument - and not sucking orange juice through a large straw.
The following images show the areas which were missing, and the completed repairs.
Plaster religious statuary is sometimes associated with substandard art. This beautiful 19th Century corpus which I've been restoring tells me otherwise.
Religious figures were often modeled for mass production by highly skilled sculptors. The fact that they were produced in plaster did not make the work less noteworthy artistically. The sculptor who modeled this figure would have studied anatomy inside and out. He/she shows great sensitivity in the modeling of the musculature and underlying bone structure.
However, commercialism can reduce quality, and I'll explain this further on.
In earlier times, both animal gelatin and rubber were used to make moulds for architectural and figurative pieces.
Gelatin, has a short shelf life, it breaks down fairly quickly, and as the gelatin deteriorates, so does the mould. Its ability to replicate sharp detail is reduced. In commercial terms, few replicas could be produced using this material. Because moulds are expensive and time consuming to make, commercial producers occasionally over-used rubber moulds which were past their best.
While first edition figures would retain all the detail of the original model, those produced using a mould which had lost it elasticity from over -use were substantially different.
I believe it is these latter figures which give religious plaster statuary a bad name. Hardly surprising if one hasn't had the opportunity to view the first editions.
There are still some good examples of plaster statuary which retain all their original details; though sadly, the commercial push to promote resin statuary means that fewer of these figures might be preserved for the future.
The corpus here is depicted with an open mouth, inviting us to contemplation of Christs last words on the cross, "Into your hands I commend my spirit... it is done!""
The figure is not a sentimental representation, but invites us to think deeply about the spiritual significance of these words for us.
It has weathered church devotions for over a century and a half, and hopefully now one hundred more!
I admit that I regard humble plaster figures with some affection. I am sure when God created plaster, he knew that it would serve to build up the church throughout time. Even though mass produced religious statuary has its faults, it did much to further popular devotion during the 19th Century.
Long may our beloved plaster statues continue!
The internet shop photo hadn't shown the greasy glob of goo which sat on his forehead. A candle stand had hidden the missing fingers of his left hand.
The all important "Heart" had been nailed to his chest at a jaunty angle.
Despite this, someone saw past the rash of problems - and brought him to us for rescue!
With all the old paint and goo removed, the statue revealed that it had been made from open grained low grade wood which split easily. We carefully pared down the front of the mantle so that the heart would sit comfortably on his chest .
With these two alterations, the figure immediately took on a more dignified appearance.
The next remedy was to carve some new fingers. We used a denser wood than that used for the figure, and spliced these into the palm of the hand. as shown below.as
This statue of the Sacred Heart was intended for a church sanctuary. As we were also restoring the figure of Our Lady for the same sanctuary, I designed a motif which would suit both figures, to give them unity.
Below is the finished figure (photographed at my studio) with its new look complete.
Liturgical artist/restorer. Bachelor of Art and Design, Catholic Blogger
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