Art Conservation in the Caribbean
At this time of year, most people head to the Caribbean to escape the cold temperatures and snow, but Marcin Pikus of McKay Lodge Conservation recently traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) to perform a conservation treatment of a bronze statue as well as a conservation assessment of a mosaic artwork and fountain.
The artworks to be treated and examined were respectively Lady of Justice, 1993 by Jan R. Mitchell at the Almeric L. Christian Federal Building in St. Croix and Courthouse and Reverent Grove, 1978 by Ned Smyth at the DeLugo Federal building in St. Thomas.
The Lady of Justice bronze sculpture is arguably a striking piece as it does not follow the Classic motif typical of this subject matter. Instead of the long flowing robes of Grecian woman, the female figure is portrayed with a normal skirt, belt, shirt, head wrap, and sandals. The bar of the balance scale also has a design representing local flora. From the harsh sun and conditions, the sculpture was in unstable condition. The protective coating on the bronze figure was failing, allowing some areas of the exposed metal to develop green corrosion.
For the treatment, the goal was to reapply the protective coating so that the bronze is safeguarded from the elements and has a more homogeneous appearance after treatment. First, the surface was cleared of dirt and debris, providing a clean layer to apply the wax. Using a torch, the metal was heated and the wax applied by brush, reducing the appearance of patina inconsistencies and saturating visually distracting areas of corrosion as well as providing protection. The surface of the waxed bronze was then buffed with a microfiber cloth once the metal was sufficiently cooled.
An after treatment image reveals a surface that is more rich and even in color and demonstrates uniform protective coating. The coating should last another three to five years.
The artist Jan. R Mitchell, who majored in sculpture and design at the Philadelphia College of Art, currently works and resides in St. Croix.
Conservator Pikus then did some island hopping to perform an examination of Reverent Grove by Ned Smyth.
McKay Lodge Conservation has treated several pieces by artist Ned Smyth. The most recent conservation treatment was in Savannah, Georgia outside the front entrance of the Juliette Gordon Low Federal Building in 2017.
Reverent Grove is located in an open courtyard of the the DeLugo Federal building in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. It consists of a blue colored “sarcophagus” form supported by four columns located in the center of a round fountain pool. The blue sarcophagus is surrounded of five “palm tree” elements. As described by conservator Pikus, “Both the sarcophagus and the palm trees are simplified geometric forms clad with glass and natural stone tesserae. The sarcophagus is also filled with water, which runs down through four spouts located approximately 4 inches below the top edge in the center of each side”.
The artwork was in fair condition at the time of the assessment, but it has serious structural concerns that if left unaddressed could lead to permanent damage, and it has aesthetic issues that are seriously impacting the public perception of the artwork. Some of these condition issues include general soiling, white mineral deposition on the surface of the tesserae (or tiles), losses of tesserae throughout the piece, and some cracks which are in need of repair.
The proposed treatment will be to stabilize and improve the appearance of the piece as much as possible. Future treatment will require sourcing and replacing loose tesserae, clearing the surface of dirt and mineral deposits, and addressing the cracks found on the columns of the artwork with a matching mortar.