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Hot waxing outdoor sculpture and ballet are rarely included in the same sentence, but sometimes the two overlap, or should we say, they are brought together. The sculpture Cabriole by Jimilu Mason illustrates a ballet move as performed by three cast bronze male figures who appear to be suspended mid leap. Cabriole is defined in ballet as “a jump in which one leg is extended into the air forward or backward, the other is brought up to meet it, and the dancer lands on the second foot”. While the sculpture itself captures this movement, it is also impressive to see the jump in motion.

Cabriole by Jimilu Mason before treatment. The blue corrosion layer is typical of uncoated outdoor bronzes

Cabriole is installed on a large polished granite base in front of the BB&T building in Charleston, West Virginia. It was installed on August 29, 1981 as a gift from the Kanawha Valley Bank which was eventually acquired by the BB&T Bank Corporation in 2000. Years of exposure to the elements gradually led to corrosion on the surface of the bronze figures.

A detail of the sculpture before treatment

Hot waxing for the outdoor sculpture was determined to be the least invasive and most effective treatment option to halt existing corrosion and protect the artwork from further wear. The protective hot wax coating also saturates the surface, reducing the appearance of corrosion and unintentional surface variation. Christina L. Simms, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, performed the hot waxing outdoor sculpture maintenance. She first rinsed and washed debris from the surface with diluted solution of non-ionic detergent. The detergent was then rinsed from the sculpture with water. With a clean surface, the protective coating could be applied with a hot waxing treatment.

Conservator Christina L. Simms, hot waxing. Image courtesy of Jeff Pierson, Office of Public Art, Charleston, WV

First, Conservator Simms heated the bronze surface until the right temperature to melt the wax was achieved. The wax was then worked onto the surface with a brush, ensuring that the coating was neither too thin nor too thick; this was somewhat of a challenge due to the modeled surface of the sculpture. The following day Simms buffed the wax to an even sheen.

During treatment, the wax saturates the corrosion improving appearance while providing protection for the metal

The hot waxing outdoor sculpture maintenance for Cabriole by Jimilu Mason resulted in a more visually continuous surface after treatment, and the new wax protects the metal from further corrosion. Under normal conditions, the coating will require refurbishment in three to five years.

After hot wax maintenance, the sculpture has a more even color and it is protected from the elements

Hot waxing bronze sculpture is a standard outdoor sculpture maintenance practice among art conservators to help protect bronze works which are exposed to the elements. Protective coating applications are performed by the McKay Lodge Conservation staff regularly to help preserve outdoor artworks by many different artists such as Jimilu Mason around the country.

Jimilu Mason is an American sculptor, born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but grew up in Washington D.C. She attended George Washington University, earning a Bachelors of Art. She served on the National Council of ART from 1966-1972 as appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Mason now reproduces her artwork at foundaries in Baltimore, Maryland and Treviso, Italy.

Visit Cabriole by Mason which is located on the outdoor plaza at the BB&T building on Summers Street in Charleston, West Virginia or view local news coverage for more information.

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