Ivory Sculptures

A pair of very intricate and fascinating ivory sculptures came in. They were purchased a long time ago and are likely Chinese in origin. The chrysanthemum sculpture sits above a vase that actually contains fish and seaweed.

Trouble stemmed from the flower base and how it freely rests on the wooden base. It’s very top heavy and it fell over and hit the dragon sculpture, which stood nearby, cracking the base of the dragon and causing it to lean down, lowering the birdcage. There were also a “few” broken flower pieces.

An old restoration left epoxy glue that had turned brown. This will, however, offer some clues as to which pieces go where, but the puzzle aspect of the restoration will likely prove to be the most challenging part. To reattach the ivory we’ll use a pair of restorer-grade epoxies, one of which is a glass epoxy and will dry clear. And to protect the chrysanthemum sculpture for the future, we’ll fortify the base making it more sturdy.

The United States banned the sale of ivory objects in 2016. Exempt items include instruments and firearms containing less than 200 grams of ivory, and antiques professionally appraised to be at least a century old. The price per pound of ivory went as high as $1,500, and an estimated 100,000 elephants were poached between 2012-2014.

Willie the penguin, icon of KOOL

This iconic piece of history had cracked at the feet and in the paper mache along the front of the statue. Lost areas were rebuilt, redoing the paper mache in layers working from the interior, and the craquelures in-painted.

Willie the penguin was introduced in 1934 by The Ted Bates Advertising Agency. During the time there were several other cartoonish spokespersons like Kellog’s Snap, Crackle & Pop, Reddy Killowat, and the Campbell’s Kids. Willie’s product line included salt and pepper shakers, ash trays, holders for wooden matches, lighters, and when air-conditioning was introduced, a version was created to suggest customers to enter a storefront because it was “kool” inside. It has also been debated that a picture of Willie wearing a top hat was the inspiration for the Penguin character in Batman. Regardless, Willie appeared in his own comic books after he was licensed by Standard Comics for six issues, with the cigarette brand dropped from the title. By the ’60s, however, the company had shifted advertising focus and opted for wintry outdoor scenes to promote their business.

Icon of St. Nicholas

It started with the Council of Nicaea, when a group of over 300 Catholic bishops debated the nature of the Holy Trinity. Arius took the position that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. It took a lengthy explanation for Arius to do this, and while Nicholas listened he grew in anger. As legend has it, once he had had enough, Nicholas stood up, walked across the room, and smacked Arius. Emperor Constantine had called for the Council of Nicaea, and at the time it was illegal for anyone hit another person in his presence, but he allowed the bishops to decide on Nicolas’ punishment. This became jail time. During the night, an ashamed Nicholas saw Jesus and Mary the Mother. They asked him, “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you,” responded Nicholas. It’s then reported that Jesus gave Nicholas the Book of the Gospels, and Mary gave an omophorion so Nicholas could again be dressed as a bishop. The next morning the jailers found a content Nicholas in bishop’s robes, reading the Gospel. They brought him to Constantine who freed him and reinstated him as the Bishop of Myra, a city in present day Turkey. That is the story told in this icon.

The  most pressing issue are the immense number of craquelures, the fine cracks. They are in danger of enlarging, as well as they tell the story of what’s happening below the surface. It’s likely the oak panel is cracking which will cause the paint film to shift. Along St. Nicholas’ robe there is an area of loss on the central cross. Furthermore, across the icon there are many white dots that represent small areas of loss. It will be necessary to consolidate the whole surface of the icon. This will give a smoother and cleaner look to the icon, and make the gilding even more impressive. Stay tuned for more . . .

Ben Patterson Collage Series

This collage series by Ben Patterson (1934 – 2016) is fun and playful, and yet still provocative. It came in for cleaning and for the pieces to be re-secured. We devised a Velcro system for the weighty Duck Family Dreamland, and thoroughly cleaned the series with a restorer’s solution and quite a few cotton tips.

Benjamin Patterson was born in Pittsburgh in 1934, and graduated from the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, in 1956 with a degree in music. He was a virtuosic double bassist but as an African American he could not find a job in the United States, so he played with various orchestral groups in Canada, including the Halifax Symphony Orchestra and the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra (as principal bassist). In the ’60s as a member of the Fluxus movement, Patterson sought to “open people’s minds, ears, and eyes, not necessarily with shock technique, but with surprises and unexpected things so they become more aware and sensitive to the world around them.” By the early ’70s the first of three Patterson children was born, and as a result the art pursuits for Patterson were largely put on hold; as he said “Family was coming along, and papa needed to earn money.” He worked various jobs, and earned a master’s in library science from Columbia University, but in ’87, once his children had finished university he was able to return full-time to art and worked extensively, staging performances and shows around the world. “Artists are like old cowboys; they die with their boots on,” Patterson would say to Interview magazine in 2013.

In memory of Billy Mayer

In memory of Billy Mayer. Studio shots of ceramic sculptures that we gilded for Billy. It was always a pleasure to collaborate and talk shop with Billy. Over the years he was very supportive of my work and our company. We will miss him. There is nothing like being able to share in creative work with another human being.


Jean Juhlin Sculpture

Jean Juhlin (20th Century) sculpture suffered from a broken foot. After careful stabilization work with a restorer’s substance the color was then touched up to marry it to the original.

By her own words Jean Juhlin considers herself to be self-taught, driven by the muse within her that acts as a compass to guide her artistic callings. In the 1960s she opened a studio in Chicago and reconstellated her muse, teaching to a wide range of aspiring sculpturists. At the time she also took on commissions for portraitures.

Her formal learning took place firstly at the Art Institute of Chicago and then secondly in Mexico, at the Instiuto National de Ballas Arts and then the Insituto de Allende. She cites her time in Mexico as a defining period in her art maturation. There she befriended the indigenous population and was particularly drawn to the strong yet calm demeanor of the indigenous women. This subject matter and pathos combination kept her busy as a sculpturist for several years.

Most of her success as a commercial artist can be found in the American Southwest where corporations commissioned her to create life-sized statues of her signature work: indigenous women in the act or stance of primal yet powerful constitutions.

Her work has been at the Ray Tracey Gallery in Santa Fe, El Prado Gallery in Sedona, Miller Gallery in Cincinnati, and Other Side Gallery in Pier, Michigan.

Folk Art: Beekeeper Sculpture

American folk art is a 20th century term that was coined by collectors, professional artists, critics, dealers, and curators whose search for an authentic American art was answered by a type of work that presented a nuanced picture of national identity, faith, progress, ingenuity, community, and individuality. Folk art’s hallmark quality is its utilitarian aspect which separates it from from the elite or professional product that constitutes mainstream art. Because of this, folk art has a tendency to stress local needs and tastes. Oftentimes, an artist will use materials that were local or found “objects,” which required their unique eye to imagine how the object could be incorporated. This adds to the work’s charm and aesthetics, as no two artists see things the same way, but it can also make the restoration tricky. To mend a section, or to replace it, is usually the moral quandary a conservator with be faced with.

This beekeeper came in with breaks along the stick, where the beehive sat. To keep as much of the original as possible, we chose to mend the broken pieces by drilling and then plugging with 1/16″ dowel. In-painting matched the original colors and a very small amount of Milliput was used to strengthen the hand. We were very pleased to honor the artist’s original material and complete the restoration without replacing any parts.

Krijger Hert Statue: Tinkering to Perfection

Working closely with the client, we came to the realization that the original restored Krijger sculpture had a few lingering aspects that were not as true to the original as we had hoped. The torso, the shoulder joints, and the main ribcage were the areas of concern.

The restored sculpture’s torso was built from a salvaged barn beam. This differed from the original which was a piece of red cedar driftwood. The barn beam had two advantages: fewer hours of labor would be needed to shape it, and it would have greater structural integrity. Unfortunately, once it was all done, the torso still in some ways felt like a barn beam and lacked the rounded animal-like qualities of the original. A fresh red cedar log was brought in and carefully chiseled down to the desired shape, and then chemically treated to match the color of the original.

Structural integrity was also a concern for the shoulder joints. Original restoration had sent bolts on either side, partway into the torso. This adhered each leg independently, making adjustments to stand the sculpture easier, but the overall strength this gave to the sculpture was less than we had hoped. We decided to re-engineer how the shoulders attached, and opted for a stronger and thicker single bolt sent clean through the torso. This, however, added a considerable degree of difficulty, in that the legs were now co-joined, and adjusting one would minutely effect the other and draw the sculpture out of balance. We realized the bolt that connected the shoulder joints would need to have a slight bend in order to have the feet maintain a level plane. The process to find the correct angle was done by trial and error, a laborious effort of heating and then gripping the ends with wrenches to pry it into shape. This took us a few tries, but we got it.

The final area we wanted to get perfect was the main ribcage. Krijger had originally used a very thin metal which was easy to shape. We had chosen a stronger gauge of metal that would maintain itself better over time. But this also meant it was harder to shape. Our original restoration had the individual ribs straighter than the original statue. By heating the metal we were able to soften it enough so that we could shape each part into a more naturalistic appearance.

As you can imagine this project turned into an extensive restoration which challenged us to remain disciplined and to trust our knowledge with different materials, and that, ultimately, we would get a sculpture that we and our client would be proud of.