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Far south from the McKay Lodge Conservation lab facilities in the Great Lakes Region, but just north of the Mexico and United States border, Public Art and Sculpture Conservator Jim Gwinner recently managed an outdoor painted sculpture conservation project in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The conservation project consisted of refinishing and recoating the sculpture, Solirio by William Goodman. The piece was commissioned in 1975 as part of the Art in Architecture program and installed at the Harold Runnels Federal Building where the eighteen foot sculpture rests within a fenced in area.

The public artwork is a large painted steel abstract sculpture which is coated a vibrant yellow color. Though its shape is reminiscent of a large flower, the painted outdoor work is intended to be a physical manifestation of a gesture. According to Goodman, the sculpture was created from scrap metal from the demolition of a building at the Walker Air Force Base in Rosewell, New Mexico.

The desert climate and sun can readily undermine a coating which was the case for Solirio. The once highly saturated yellow color was chalked and faded, no longer appearing as intended by artist Goodman. Though the sculpture had been treated in the past, it would need to be recoated once more. This is not unusual, however, since resurfacing and/or recoating of painted outdoor sculpture is a normal part of a cyclic maintenance process. No coating or paint system last forever, and certainly, artwork often requires greater attention to color and appearance than recoating projects in industry. For this reason, it is critical to involve an art conservator, particularly one with experience in surface preparation techniques, recoating painted outdoor sculpture, knowledge of high performance paint systems, and project management for painted outdoor sculpture conservation treatment.

The McKay Lodge Conservation team has vast experience in the treatment of painted outdoor sculpture, especially the conservation of public art across the United States. Many of these projects are performed at our conservation lab facilities just outside of Cleveland including recent projects such as the conservation treatment of Transit by artist Wendy Ross or the restoration of a large neon artwork by Stephen Antonakos. Other recoating projects are completed by our conservators on-site. Recent on-site painted outdoor sculpture recoating projects include: the repainting of a large weathering steel architectural feature in Ohio and the treatment of Seaflower by James Surls in Massachusetts.

Sometimes, however, logistical or other restraints necessitate the conservator to act as a project manager, rather than performing the treatment, as was the case with Solirio. Conservator Gwinner therefore coordinated with local painting contractors to complete the project. In this capacity, Gwinner acted as steward for the artwork, ensuring that no damage occurred to the piece and the final treatment resulted in a surface that looked and felt as close to the original appearance as possible.

Conservator Jim Gwinner worked with local painting contractor Econo Pro Painters. The treatment began by reducing heavily corroded areas with abrasive cleaning; these areas were then filled and primed. After the repairs, the entire surface was scarified using random orbital sanders, and any surface inconsistencies were sanded smooth. The surface was then cleaned of all dust and debris with a pressure washer.

The sculpture was then tented and the adjacent areas were protected by dropcloths. A layer of primer was carefully sprayed onto the surface, applying an even coat overall. The primer and all subsequent coatings were applied using a striping technique with the airless sprayer to ensure the paint coating was evenly applied around the exposed armature. Once the primer had cured, two top coats were applied with an airless sprayer as well. All coatings were applied to the manufacturers’ recommended thicknesses and the layers were measured using a wet film thickness gauge.

The result of the painted outdoor sculpture conservation treatment is a sculpture not only with its vibrant yellow coating returned, but one with a paint system with great durability which preserves the substrate and form.

A special thanks to the Econo Pro Painters in Las Cruces, New Mexico for their part in completing an exemplary painted outdoor sculpture conservation treatment.

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