While pretty robust, maintaining the condition of the surface or patina of antique sculptures and statues is vital to maintain the value.
Keeping your antique sculpture in a sheltered position when placed outside prevents a lot of damage, as water dripping from a tree stains a statue beneath. Mold, algae and lichen form more readily on objects exposed to northerly weather. In extreme cold stonework can split or shatter, as moisture absorbed by the stone expands on freezing. Removing soil from urns and troughs will reduce risk of frost damage.
Raise outdoor pieces above ground level on plinths, with built-in damp-proof membranes. Place them well away from ivy or fallen leaves, as either can stain or secrete weak acids that will pit the surface. Cover all items before spraying garden chemicals.
Antique Stone and Marble
Some stone dissolves or is irreparably worn away by misguided attempts at cleaning. Limestone, sandstone and
Coade stone form a weathered surface crust, which if removed will expose a vulnerable, crumbly surface beneath. If the surface is smooth and hard you can lightly hose it with water, easing loosened dirt with a soft-bristled brush. Don’t worry about algae and lichen. In most cases they add to a statue’s value. If you really want to remove them and the surface is sound, brush the statue with a solution of a teaspoon of dichlorophen (available from a garden shop) to a pint (570ml) of water.
Alabaster and marble stain easily. Marble discolours and deteriorates, particularly in salty or polluted air. Attempts to remove stains from any porous stone may force the stain deeper or erode the surface.
Soft materials such as alabaster and soapstone scratch and break easily. They also gradually dissolve in water, so dust them regularly to prevent dirt building up. Wipe a sound surface gently with cotton wool moistened in a mixture of half a pint (285ml) each of white spirit and distilled water, and one teaspoon of mild or non-ionic detergent.
Rinse each section as you go with cotton wool dampened with distilled water. The solution is also suitable for cleaning hard stones such as polished granite, onyx, blue john, jade and agate.
To liven up and protect a cleaned surface of any of the above materials, apply a light coat of microcrystalline wax with a soft-bristled brush and buff gently with a clean white cloth. Dust white marble and similar materials with pure talc, this fills pores and prevents dust from becoming ingrained.
Only dust plaster, regularly and gently with a soft-bristled brush.
Leave major repairs or restoration to a specialist – as they use a special resin compound mixed with ground-up stone to match the object. If you want to try mending a minor break yourself, use a quick-setting epoxy resin adhesive.
Bronze, Spelter and Lead
Always preserve the dark/greenish brown patina on antique bronze. Don’t use metal polish or solvent. Dusting is fine. Revive a dull patina with a very light wax, but test an inconspicuous area first. Apply the wax with a soft-bristled brush and burnish gently with a soft cloth. Archaeological bronzes or items exposed to salty air may develop ‘bronze disease’ – small, powdery, green spots on the surface. If the area is small, wax it yourself. Otherwise, take it to a conservator for specialist treatment.
Softer and more brittle than bronze, spelter corrodes easily. Figures are often thinly cast and fragile, so hold them at the most solid part. Don’t allow painted or gilded figures to get wet. Dust them lightly with a soft-haired artist’s brush. Wax spelter the same way as bronze.
Antique lead is heavy and very soft, easily dented and scratched, and poisonous. Always wash your hands after handling it. Corrosion appears as a white, powdery coating. Dust indoor lead regularly. A sound surface can be cleaned with a soft-bristled brush or cotton wool moistened in water with a few drops of non-ionic detergent. Rinse and dry well immediately. Microcrystalline wax helps to prevent further deterioration: apply one or two coats (leaving an hour between coats) and buff gently with a soft cloth.
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