Spas are popular destinations where ladies and gentlemen visit to seek care for their outer layers. What happens when the epidermis in need of care belongs to a lady or gentleman made of bronze? That’s a question for Sarah Hutt, Collections Care Manager for the Friends of the Public Garden, who designs and implements spa regiments for bronze figures on a regular basis. The Friends cares for more than 40 pieces of sculpture and memorials on Boston Common, in the Public Garden, and on Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
Recently, on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the Boston Women’s Memorial ladies; Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone; and the statues of Leif Eriksson and John Glover were cleaned as part of the Friends ongoing maintenance program. The figures of the Women’s Memorial were washed and waxed. On the Glover and Eriksson statues, “the bronze is protected with a coating of Incralac, a shellac-type coating used for bronze, which is then covered with layers of wax,” according to Hutt.
If cleanings and treatments are not done on a regular basis, the coatings break down and the bronze can be damaged when it is exposed to air and other elements. “The bright green colors you sometimes see on statuary are the visible signs of oxidation, which means that piece is at risk of suffering serious damage. However, a little green tint is normal because there is a green colorant called a “patina” used to color the wax and give the statue a weathered look,” says Hutt.
It can cost a few hundred dollars to perform preventative maintenance on these works of arts, but once the damage passes a certain point, it could cost thousands to get it back in good condition. “Fortunately our proactive cleaning program has stabilized the collection and is saving the bronze works for generations to come,” adds Hutt.