Outdoor Sculpture; Public Art
The border between the United States of America and Mexico inspires many ideas, thoughts, and-outdoor works of art. McKay Lodge’s Emmett Lodge and Marcin Pikus had an opportunity to perform condition assessments and outdoor sculpture maintenance for several works of art in the Brownsville, Texas area. The city of Brownsville is located near the border, and it has a humid subtropical climate. The region stays slightly cooler because of the breezes from the Gulf of Mexico. While the salty ocean air, high humidity, and sunshine is relatively pleasant for humans, it can cause problems for outdoor sculpture.
One of the public art works in Texas examined by the conservation team included Barbara Grygutis, Portal, 1995 which is located near the Los Indios Port of Entry, Texas. Artist Barbara Grygutis has been commissioned to create over 75 works of public art in North America, and she is also known for her sculptural public artworks abroad. Her work is found in many different settings such as natural environments to sculpture gardens to public plazas.
In a grassy area near the Los Indios Port of Entry, her work Portal features an imposing arch structure. The sides of the arch are flanked by what appears to be the abstracted halves of a palm tree. These elements are anchored to two stepped platforms. The entire facade of the sculpture is covered in green, aqua, and deep blue colored ceramic tiles laid over a poured concrete structure. Tiles are bonded to the concrete with thin set mortar and they are grouted. Corners and edges are finished with glazed bull nose and quarter round tile.
The outdoor sculpture is in overall good condition. It was previously treated by McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory in 2011, where damaged tiles were replaced, re-grouted, and heavy efflorescence and deposits were removed during a thorough ceramic tile conservation project. We were happy to observe that approximately six years later, only minor condition issues were present, and that no newly-damaged tiles were apparent during the 2017 condition assessment.
Mineral deposits are a common outdoor sculpture maintenance issue. Mineral deposits can either migrate from the grout or they can be caused by hard water from sprinklers. Since Portal previously had a problem with lawn sprinklers leaving water deposits on the sculpture, it was recommended to change this practice in 2011. During the recent conservation condition assessment, it was noted that the sprinklers were no longer in use, and they had been turned off for several years. As a result, the sculpture was clean and free of any sprinkler hard water deposits.
Some ceramic tiles demonstrated efflorescence (or white salt accretions) that needed to be removed with a specialized tile and grout cleaner, and some manual removal. Small areas of missing or damaged grout were repaired with new grout in a grey color matching the existing grout. If tiles are not regrouted as needed, they can shift or fall off the sculpture. As a final step, the artwork sculpture was then re-sealed with exterior grade tile and grout sealer.
The sculpture should be inspected in three to five years in case there is deteriorating grout, efflorescence accumulation, or other cosmetic problems.
An after treatment image detail demonstrates a surface that is now free of the white salt accretions which can damage the glaze and tile if left untreated.