At the beginning of 2018, we shared our conservation assessment of Seaflower completed by Conservator of Modern Art Bob Lodge who specializes in painted outdoor sculpture conservation and coatings research and refinishing. Seaflower was created by artist James Surls in 1978, and it remains perched on a bed white seashells outside of the Hastings Keith Federal Building in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The outdoor sculpture consists of large timbers which protrude like spikes from a steel collar which is coated brown in color. With the rough hewn spine-like projection, it is easy to see why the public artwork is often likened to a sea urchin.
As described in our previous post, as with many painted outdoor sculpture conservation assessments, the sculpture components were deteriorated from exposure to harsh weather conditions and time. Rust on the center steel collar had formed in some areas, the paint color was faded and chipped, and the wood elements cracked and covered with biological growth. Rust from a condensation drain pipe located on the bottom of the sculpture had also stained the white seashells below. It was clear that the best treatment option was a recoating to preserve and revitalize the painted outdoor sculpture.
Since some of the original products used were no longer available due to their toxicity, Conservator Bob Lodge along with NACE Certified Industrial Coatings Inspector, Emmett Lodge, performed coatings research and refinishing methods in order to successfully complete the painted outdoor sculpture conservation project. Careful consideration was used to maintain the textured look of the wood and recreating the original “walnut brown” color of the steel; this was completed by creating samples and comparing them to the sculpture as well as the General Services Administration archives.
With some weather and the products selected for the outdoor painted sculpture treatment, Emmett Lodge and Stefan Dedeck Conservator of Paintings, Murals and Polychrome Surfaces, traveled to perform the art conservation project in Massachusetts. The first steps included prepare the surfaces of the sculpture for recoating and refinshing. The wood was washed and the steel was sanded and wire-brushed with hand-tools.
Bare steel was primed with epoxy then recoated with a high-performance acrylic polymer paint in a semi-gloss finish. Wood elements were refinished with a transparent oil-based stain, returning color to the timber projections. Only 1 coat was applied, since it was felt that second coat would undermine or hinder the wood texture, which was considered an important visual feature of the public artwork by James Surls. The condensation drain pipe was extended to the ground, hidden behind one leg spike, to prevent future corrosion staining of the area under the sculpture; this feature will likely be extended when new ground cover is added by building maintenance staff. As a final step, the wood was treated with a dilute biocide to prevent growth in the future.
After treatment, Lodge found himself and the sculpture caught in the rain, which was fortunate in this case. He observed that the water effectively beaded on the surface meaning that the wood and painted steel elements were protected. The painted outdoor sculpture, however, will need conservation maintenance and treatment in the future due to the wood and painted components, condition, and exposure to the harsh New England weather.