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The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is home to many great art museums, cultural institutions as well as educational and medical facilities like the University of Pittsburgh. For over thirty years, Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, renown transplantation pioneer and researcher, served on the surgical faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. Though one can read more about his groundbreaking research and life on his official website, this post discusses an outdoor sculpture maintenance project in Pittsburgh of a bronze sculpture dedicated to the late Dr. Starzl.

Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, 2018, by Susan Wagner, before treatment

The outdoor sculpture maintenance in Pittsburgh was performed by Christina L. Simms, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture. The bronze sculpture is of Dr. Starzl who sits casually on a bench just outside of the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. The bronze artwork was sculpted by artist Susan Wagner, and dedicated in a ceremony on June 23, 2018. The figure is dressed in a turtleneck, blazer, and slacks. His legs are crossed and his body is turned as if to engage anyone who sits next to him in conservation.

A detail of the figure before treatment shows small areas of blanched coating in the recesses

In performing outdoor sculpture maintenance in Pittsburgh, it is worth noting that the City experiences harsh winters and hot summers. This kind of weather pattern can be hard on protective coatings such as wax or acrylic resin for outdoor bronzes. In addition, it is common in the Midwestern United States to use salt to melt potentially dangerous icy sidewalks and roads. Since the sculpture is located on a college campus, pedestrian safety is important. Salts, however, can cause or accelerate corrosion. The practice impacts many outdoor sculptures displayed in public areas in colder climates where salt is used in the winter. Regular washing and waxing maintenance helps to mitigate this common issue.

A detail of the feet demonstrates corrosion and blanched coatings before treatment

By the fall of 2019, the wax coating on the bronze sculpture of Dr. Thomas E. Starzl had some areas of blanching. Some blue-green corrosion was also observed around the feet. Conservator Simms washed the surface with a non-ionic surfactant then thoroughly rinsed away any remaining residues. She then heated the bronze and applied a wax coating. Since the sculpture is seated on a bench, this process was carefully executed so the metal could be heated to the right temperature to melt the wax, but not to adversely impact the paint. The surface was then polished with a flame to create an even sheen. A paste wax was applied to the plaque then buffed.

After treatment the sculpture has a more even sheen and color

After performing the outdoor sculpture maintenance in Pittsburgh, the bronze might not appear all the different. A closer look reveals a surface that no longer has blanching, and the once blue-green corrosion is now saturated with a layer of protective wax. Regular maintenance will keep the sculpture in good condition for many years to come.

A detail after treatment further demonstrates an more even sheen and color

In the meantime, if you find yourself in Pittsburgh, sometimes called the Steel City or the City of Bridges, come and take a seat. Dr. Thomas E. Starzl can be visited anytime just off Fifth Avenue in front of the Cathedral of Learning.

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