Restoration and Conservation of Paintings and Sculptures

Restoration and conservation of paintings, sculptures, objects and cultural heritage pieces require an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses art history research, scientific analysis and material science.

As sculpture restoration evolves, using new materials to make their work more visually engaging and long-term durable, outdoor sculpture is especially susceptible to degradation caused by weather exposure.

Water Damage

Water damage to artwork stored or displayed in homes or businesses is an all too frequent problem, often being the source of great distress for paintings, sculptures and books. Floods or hurricanes may also bring on this damage.

Damage depends on both the material used and length of time it was exposed to water, with wood pulp paper being particularly susceptible to swelling and staining when exposed.

Due to these considerations, it is vital that artworks be regularly checked for signs of damage or deterioration – this includes scratched graffiti, surface scuff marks and even rust spots.

When signs of wear-and-tear surface, it is imperative that an expert is contacted immediately in order to assess and provide recommendations for treatment options. Some items may have become irreparably damaged while others will need repair and restoration work done.

Metal sculptures, including stainless steel pieces, may rust. To minimize this corrosion process, keep them free of soil particles, industrial debris and bird droppings by regularly rinsing with water; this may help prevent future buildup.

Outdoor sculptures can be more difficult to maintain than indoor pieces, due to their exposure to weather elements and potential for wildlife damage. Therefore, it is recommended that outdoor pieces undergo routine inspection and keep a photographic record.

When artwork has been damaged by water, the first step should be contacting an emergency response team and initiating safety procedures for all involved in recovery. Once the water has dried up, move affected works to an area with good ventilation, temperature (40-60% RH) and moderate air circulation for drying procedures.

Corrosion

Corrosion is an organic process that damages all materials, from metals to other nonmetallic ones. Its cause lies in chemical and electrochemical reactions triggered by water, air and other environmental elements coming into contact with material surfaces.

Corrosion poses a considerable threat to both the preservation and restoration of metal objects, particularly archaeological or ethnographic sculpture. Corrosion may lead to surface treatments becoming degraded or the dissolution of natural corrosion products found on metal objects or formed artificially through chemical or electrochemical processes, including dissolving surface treatments applied initially or dissolution products formed through chemical/electrochemical reactions.

Preventing corrosion requires using tried and true techniques, such as humidification and consolidation, desalination, deacidification and corrosion inhibitors.

Consideration must also be given to the environment in which a piece of sculpture will be stored, particularly outdoor pieces that may be subject to harsh weather or museum visitors.

Iron is susceptible to corrosion due to exposure to air and moisture. Lime can also react with iron to form an oxide film on its surface that eventually leads to further corrosion.

Metal artefacts may also be stored in dry microenvironments to mitigate corrosion damage and keep their condition as stable as possible. This can be accomplished using humidity and temperature controls as well as special dry storage solutions (see Caring for archaeological collections – Storage solutions for iron objects).

Corrosion may also occur at one specific site only, known as “localised corrosion.” This form of corrosion can be very hard to detect or assess as it often takes the form of small craters, pinpricks, grain edges or other unusual shapes which aren’t visible with naked eyes.

Deterioration

Sculpture is vulnerable to degradation from interaction with both its environment and people, so conservators must take preventive steps such as cleaning, waxing and protecting its surfaces to reduce this deterioration and preserve its value.

When a sculpture has been damaged, conservation and restoration begin with an intensive assessment. This involves taking photographs, inspecting its structural integrity, and speaking with its owner or artist regarding desired levels of treatment.

Museum pieces require special care in order to return them to a condition similar to when they first appeared – this could involve stripping layers of paint away, adding materials or replacing parts.

Bronze artworks placed outside are particularly susceptible to degradation from pollution and weather changes, which can lead to corrosion that causes surface damages such as denting and holes on their surfaces. This corrosion can even result in dented and holed sculptures!

Denting is the primary form of corrosion for bronze products, due to being hollow inside. If necessary, filling of holes or dents must be done carefully so as not to further erode its durability.

Conservators decide the treatment for sculptures by considering its history, place in collections, resources available to them and relative needs relative to other objects in them. They use this data to assign priorities for conservation activities; hopefully conservation treatments won’t impede future examination or scientific analysis or impact upon their functionality in any way.

Defects

Sculptures of all sizes require special care in order to preserve their luster, with those in the know having various tips and tricks up their sleeve. But even those unaware could be missing out on undiscovered gems; taking time to study each work of art with an open mind could yield discoveries from grandest to smallest treasures!

Cleaning

Cleaning art and historical objects requires striking a delicate balance between eliminating contaminants while upholding aesthetic qualities of works of art and history. Traditional abrasive methods may no longer suffice, so technology has become available that can effectively remove contaminants without harming surfaces of objects.

Nanotechnology offers art conservationists a novel solution for cleaning and repair products that address some of the challenges they have been experiencing with art conservation. Now it is possible to remove beeswax from frescoes, clean and rebuild calcite in frescoes, de-yellow paper sheets etc.

Bacteria are also being utilized in some art conservation projects, as their ability to metabolize dirt and other contaminants in an indirect fashion makes this method particularly suitable for frescoes and murals (Rhyne 2000). Certain strains even feed off surface dirt (Rhyne 2000).

Laser ablation is another technique, using short flashes of light pulses to heat and disperse contaminants such as dirt and varnish. These pulses may even be as short as one microsecond; often used with water protection, this approach ensures no permanent damage occurs to pieces being laser ablate-ed.

Laser ablation is an advanced cleaning method designed to safely and gently eliminate contaminants from different types of art and historical objects. Not only is laser ablation effective at eliminating contaminants, but its processes are safer and less abrasive than traditional cleaning techniques.

To protect your sculptures from rusting and corrosion, it’s essential that they undergo regular outdoor and indoor maintenance routines. This will help preserve their integrity for years. Sculptures should also be placed away from areas with too much moisture exposure such as sidewalks and walkways.