Public Art Conservation, Sculpture Conservation:
The island of Oahu has beaches, coral reefs, rainforests, mountains, designer shops, and restaurants, but it also has some great outdoor sculpture. One such work of art is the bronze sculpture Barking Sands, 1977 by artist Peter Voulkos. The sculpture is located in front of the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building and US Courthouse. It is abstract featuring a series of curved and straight cylindrical tubes. It was originally patinated a black color, but over the years the surface has undesirably changed. For this reason, conservators Jim Gwinner and Christina L. Simms traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii to perform an outdoor sculpture conservation treatment of the Voulkos sculpture.
The first step was to remove the sculpture and reinstall it in its new location. This process was completed with the assistance of the crew from Island Mini Crane under the supervision of Conservator Gwinner.
The sculpture was in poor condition. The surface was an inconsistent color with areas of greenish brown to black; there was a failed blanched coating and deep gouges from skateboards on the straight pipe elements. A number of factors led to the deterioration: age, humid climate, harsh sun, and impact damage. Highly acidic bird droppings, and perhaps, the local vog- a smog or haze containing volcanic dust and gases- might have also contributed to the condition of the bronze sculpture by Voulkos. It seemed that now in 2018, the most appropriate solution to preserve the aesthetic of the artwork was to resurface and repatinate the piece.
This was no easy task, even for a conservator with decades of outdoor sculpture conservation experience like AIC Professional Associate Jim Gwinner. The sculpture is made of several different bronze alloys that were welded together, meaning that achieving a cohesive color is a challenge. In addition, typical chemicals and supplies on the island is limited if available at all, and shipping to Hawaii is also limited. In this case, careful planning, flexibility, and Gwinner’s years of patination experience were key to the successful completion of this project.
Once the sculpture was removed from its existing mount with a crane, and placed onto new concrete mounting points several feet away, it needed to be resurfaced. This required lightly sanding the surface down to bare metal since the existing patina was in such poor condition and had multiple coatings.
The process is a dirty, but necessary one, and milder abrasives were used to minimize metal loss as much as possible. The surface was then cleared of any dust and wiped with solvent to remove any additional contaminants. The sculpture was then patinated with several different methods to achieve an overall black color. An application of hot wax was applied as a final step and selectively buffed. The final appearance after treatment reveals a surface much closer in appearance to the one intended by artist Voulkos.
While the climates of the Hawaiian Islands are diverse, the hot, humid and sunny weather in Honolulu is harsh on protective coatings which guard the sculpture from deterioration. For the bronze by Voulkos, outdoor sculpture maintenance is critical to prevent another major treatment. Regular maintenance, including washing and waxing, will help keep the sculpture in pristine condition and increase the longevity of the sculpture outdoors for many years.
The late Peter Voulkos was born to Greek immigrants in 1924. He grew up and attended college on the G.I. bill in Bozeman, Montana which is where he discovered art, particularly ceramics. He completed his education in California, and eventually taught at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now Otis) and University of Berkeley. He is considered a highly influential sculptor of the 20th century, and he has work exhibited all over the world and he is represented in countless collections.
So while you might not think of art conservation in Hawaii and prefer snorkeling, surfing, or maybe just getting a tan, perhaps drive down Halekauwila Drive, not too far from the Aloha Tower, to get a glimpse of Barking Sands.