Dismantle, Conservation and Installation of William Chambers Statue, Edinburgh

This month’s blog post comes from  Jonathan Leburn, a Sculpture Conservator with Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation Ltd. He describes the recent treatment of a monumental statue in Edinburgh….

Moving sculptures is a large part the conservation work that we do, some sculptures however are larger than others.

Front and back of statue

Front and back of statue

We have recently finished the conservation of a 3 metre tall and over two ton in weight, bronze statue of William Chambers and 5 associated bronze plaques, as part of the revamp to create more public space outside the National Museum of Scotland.

The statue and plinth which date from 1891 have only been moved about 10 metres from their original position, however in order for the conservation works to be undertaken the sculpture and plaques needed to travel a little further.

The fixing methods of sculptures to their plinths is always somewhat of an unknown, and can often make removal of objects tricky. We will always try to remove the sculptures causing as little damage as possible to the original piece.

On this particular occasion it was clear that there were a number of doweled anchor points set into the stone from three footplates. These clearly couldn’t be removed without causing significant damage to the stonework, and as a result the next best option was to cut through the bronze footplates.

Before this could be done the sculpture was carefully slung and a hi-ab crane was brought in to take some of the sculptures weight and ensure that when the last of the fixings had been cut the sculpture would be secure and would not topple.

Cutting through the bronze footplates to free the sculpture

Cutting through the bronze footplates to free the sculpture

The sculpture was then carefully raised up off its plinth and over the scaffold, before being lowered onto the back of the hi-ab lorry.

The sculpture is lowered onto a large pallet with thick plastazote softening

The sculpture is lowered onto a large pallet with thick plastazote softening

Once back at our workshop the sculpture was initially placed in the workshop on his back. This allowed us to have a good look at the internals of the sculpture and with the aid of an endoscope we could view the condition of the bronze right the way up the sculpture. Structurally there did not appear to be any significant issues however it is often interesting to see what has been placed up the sculptures, in this case large amounts of twisted ferrous metal bars and stakes.

Ferrous metal found inside the sculpture

Ferrous metal found inside the sculpture

We removed the original fixings and the remainder of the footplates we had cut away from the top stone of the plinth by way of a core drill and then using a hammer and chisel to carefully shock off the remaining concrete attached to the dowels. Once removed it was clear to see the high workmanship of the original fixings that remarkably after all this time were still easily unscrewed from the footplates.

Original fixings having been removed from the top plinth stone

Original fixings having been removed from the top plinth stone

The cut away sections of the footplates were then welded back to their original positions and a new bronze pad was also welded to the underside of each of these footplates to give added strength. Threaded holes were drilled and cut into the new footplate sections to line up with the original holes and new stainless steel dowel was cut to fit into each of the footplates.

The depth of footprint was then increased on the plinth top by way of hammer and chisel to allow for the new bronze footplate sections that had been added. This ensured the sculpture would sit at the same height on the top stone.

Discreet pigmented wax tests were also undertaken at this time on the underside of the left foot to help us decide on the best colour option.


Carrying out wax tests

The sculpture was raised back to its vertical position by way of a tall gantry within the workshop and was then given a thorough washing down with potable water and nylon brushes. This was done to remove general dirt and bird guano present on the bronze surface.

Following this the bronze surface was again brushed, this time using copper brushes to enable removal of loose verdigris and sulphation crust from the surface of the bronze. Small areas of graffiti were also removed at this point using a combination of chemicals.

The bronze was treated with a chelating agent to inhibit against future corrosion to the surface. Following this it was gently heated with a propane torch to remove all moisture.

Considering its age the bronze was in a generally sound state, however there were areas that required attention. Specifically the top of the head was in a poor condition. Being that the head is the most likely spot for a bird to land and with the acidic nature of bird guano it is not uncommon to find that the tops of sculptures are generally in a poorer condition than the rest.

There was quite significant pitting to the head of Chambers that required filling with an epoxy resin. This was pigmented to match the colour of the surrounding bronze.

Top of head prior to filling

Top of head prior to filling

Filling the pitted surface with pigmented epoxy resin

Filling the pitted surface with pigmented epoxy resin

Once all holes had been filled the bronze was again heated, this time to melt the first coat of pigmented wax into the metal surface. Following this first application the sculpture was left to cool down and allow the wax to harden. The wax was then buffed into the bronze to harden it further. A second application of wax was applied to the sculpture cold which again was buffed to harden. This process was repeated twice further in order to increase the layers of protection the wax gives the sculpture. It also increases the depth of colour to the sculpture as the pigmented wax layers build up.

Applying first coat of wax

Applying first coat of wax

Following completion of the conservation works the sculpture was transported back to the new site of the original plinth which itself had been dismantled, conserved and re-built.
To ensure the sculpture would be completely solid on top of its plinth a core drill was used to deepen each of the original holes that would receive the sculptures dowels. The holes were thus drilled down into the second stone from the top.
The sculpture was then lifted just above the plinth top so the dowels could be screwed up into the footplates. A dry run was then undertaken to ensure that all dowels and footplates fitted correctly into position. Following the successful dry run the sculpture was lifted back up and the holes in the top stone were filled with an epoxy grout. The sculpture was then lowered down into its final position.

Dowels being threaded into position prior to final positioning of sculpture

Dowels being threaded into position prior to final positioning of sculpture

Final positioning of sculpture and plaques

Final positioning of sculpture and plaques

Written by Jonathan Leburn Sculpture Conservator with Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation Ltd, Edinburgh.

Lisa Mitchell, conservation placement student from Northumbria University describes her experience of working at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh, in this week’s blog post…

Over the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with the conservation team at the CRC as part of my summer placement for my Master’s degree in conservation on works of art on paper.

Following an intense but fulfilling first year studying at Northumbria University, the summer has provided a very welcome respite from assignment writing and the opportunity to put some of my newly taught conservation skills into practice!
Working alongside Emily Hick, the Special Collections Conservator, I have been fortunate enough to assist her in the completion of the final stages of the conservation treatment of a collection of 32 portraits from India, which Emily has recently written about in her Passage to India blogs.


Indian paintings, before and after conservation

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Innerpeffray Library visit

What a fascinating day out we all had at the Innerpeffray Library on the 25th August, organised by Isobel Griffin, Collections Care Manager at the National Library of Scotland.

Innerpeffray library was the first free public lending library in Scotland, and possibly the world. The library was founded by the Drummond family in 1680 and its main purpose was to make books accessible to ordinary people, free of charge, to benefit the local community. Although, Innerpeffray is understandably no longer a lending library, it is still possible to spend the day perusing the incredibly eclectic library collections in their cosy reading room.


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Job Opportunities at Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

There are currently two fantastic job opportunities at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh. Please share!

  1. 10-week PAID internship. Closing Date: 16 September 2016
  2. 8-month Projects Conservator (Digitisation) post (search vacancy ref 037065). Closing date: 15 September 2016

Meet the Committee – Carol Brown

What is your main area of Conservation?

I don’t really have a traditional “discipline” as such in conservation any more, as I am a consultant helping all colours of heritage organisations and clients run skills programmes and write grant applications. I was trained originally as an archaeological conservator though and worked with social history and applied art collections in Museums.

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?

I am consultations secretary – keeping an eye on the historic environment scene here in Scotland to see where conservation and ISG can contribute and get involved in wider heritage policy, maintaining a network of contacts. I also keep the contact lists and compile the Iconnect news bulletins for the Group.

How did you first become interested in Conservation?

I worked as an archaeologist and spent a season in the Orkney islands collecting soil and pollen samples. This involved Winter days spent wet-sieving buckets of soil while standing soaking wet in a freezing burn. It came to my attention that other members of the team (the conservators) got to handle and care for the wonderful artefacts we were finding – and that they worked indoors in the warmth. I was sold!

Describe your typical day at work…

The fact that I never have a typical day is one of the attractions of being self-employed as a consultant. A typical week might involve spending a couple of days in the office 9-5 interviewing trainees from conservation skills programmes in order to evaluate a programme, writing reports then a day drafting a database tender document for a client, another day “on site” meeting a curator or archivist to about monitoring a store.

What has been your favourite conservation moment?

There were many wonderful rewards in managing Icon’s HLF-supported internship scheme up to 2012. There is not much to beat the feeling of helping people at the start of their careers to get a foot onto the conservation career ladder. But when I consider the question, what actually appears in my mind is a scene in the sun in a deep trench in Gozo, Malta in a corner of a pit, excavating a 3rd-millennium limestone statuette from the hard compacted soil, terrified that I will damage it, or remove some key information while the excavation Directors watched from above… I later felt in awe at what was emerging from the soil (a couple of ladies sitting on a bed!) and the knowledge that this had not been seen or touched for thousands of years – what a privilege.

Conservation is often misunderstood by those outside the profession. What would you like to tell the world about Conservation?

I don’t think conservation is exactly misunderstood – we just need to be better at getting out the message out about who we are as conservators and making more links with the wider community. Most people are clued up by the media in understanding the principles of preserving biodiversity and the environment – we need to use tactics from those fields to help people make the connection between the natural environment and the artefactual and built heritage one. Conservation can be used in the same way as the “green” agenda, it can be a tool to benefit well-being, provide educational resources and help people appreciate their local environment and heritage.

Student Placement at Edinburgh University

Joey Shuker, conservation placement student from Camberwell College of Art describes her experience of working at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at Edinburgh University in this week’s blog post…

I have been very fortunate to have spent the last four weeks in the CRC as part of my summer placement for my masters degree in Conservation of Paper. I have just finished the first year of a two-year masters at Camberwell College of Art, part of the University of Arts London.

I have been working mostly in the studio with Emily Hick, but my placement here has also taken me to the National Library of Scotland conservation studios, The Scottish Conservation Studio (private studio) and I have spent days working at the Annexe (the CRC’s of site facility) with Project Conservator, Katharine Richardson.

One of the projects I spent most time working on was conserving a collection of photographs of Leith in the 1920s.The condition in which the photographs arrived in meant they where not able to be digitised. The prints were mounted on thick card that had distorted due to past environmental and storage conditions. The distortion of the card mount was pulling and creasing the photograph. Being so distorted meant that any pressure to put them under glass during the digitisation process would have caused more damage to the print. The decision was made (before I arrived) to remove the mount backing which would allow the prints to relax and flatten.

Days were spent removing the backing down to the layer just above the back of the print. A scalpel with a no.22 blade was used to remove the backing layer by layer and a pencil grid was drawn on each layer to ensure even removal which would support the print during this process.


Curved photograph and mount


Grid on back of mount

After the majority of the backing mount had been removed and the prints began to relax and could be pressed under glass overnight. Backing removal was something I had learnt on my course but I had only ever done it on large prints rather than a collection of small ones.

Doing aqueous treatments on photographs was something I had not yet covered on my course. Emily showed me a humidification method that allowed enough moisture to soften the paste holding the last backing layer on, but didn’t affect the print. We used fords gold medal blotter, which was recommended for use with photographs as it is thinner and holds less water. We used a blotter sandwich for humidification, the prints were humidified for 30 minutes. After this time, the last layer of backing could be easily peeled away and the paste could be removed with a spatula.


Blotter sandwich


Removing the paste

After this treatment and being put into a press for a couple of days, the box of photographs that arrived at CRC curved and stiff are now relaxed and flattened and ready to be sent to the photography lab for digitisation. This was a great project to work on as I could follow the project almost from start to finish.

I have learnt many new skills and I have been introduced to new treatment methods throughout my time here. Alongside working with Emily and the conservation team in the studio, I have also had introductions to other members of staff who have taken time to show me their role in the wider CRC such as the Archives, Photography Lab, Exhibitions, Rare Books and the Musical Instruments Conservation studio.

This placement has been highly valuable to my studies and preparing for work after university.

Joey Shuker

Conservation Student Placement

Meet the Committee – Ruth Honeybone

In this week’s blog post, we meet Ruth Honeybone, Vice Chair of the Icon Scotland Group…

What is your main area of Conservation?

I’m a paper conservator by trade, but I now manage a health archive. Because of the kind of material in the archive, and the fact that I’m based in the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, conservation and preservation is still a big part of my role!

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?

I was, until fairly recently, the Treasurer (a position I had for about five years); I’m now Vice Chair.

How did you first become interested in Conservation?

In my art history undergrad degree I took a module on conservation theory and thought it offered just the right kind of practical vs. desk-based work, and then did some volunteer work in a studio to get a portfolio together. But when I was at school I did one of those tests that are meant to help you identify your perfect career – though, as teenager, I didn’t bother to read the results! When I came to them years later and saw what the test had picked out for me, conservator was second on the list – if only I’d paid more attention at the time I might have come to conservation earlier and through a different route…

Describe your typical day at work…

I don’t have a typical day really – every day is different, and that’s what I love about it! One thing is for sure though I don’t do much practical work anymore but I live vicariously through my conservation colleagues, and I make sure I keep up to date.

What has been your favourite conservation moment?

I like giving emerging conservation professionals jobs! I’m also very proud of a paid conservation internship programme that I helped set up that is still going strong, and hearing about what those interns have gone on to do afterwards.

Conservation is often misunderstood by those outside the profession. What would you like to tell the world about Conservation?

That it’s a highly specialist field but that conservators are an approachable bunch who are always willing to share information and work together to meet shared goals around collection items. And also that it’s nothing to do with recycling newspaper or saving badgers, both misconceptions that I’ve had to explain my way out of in the past!

Book conservation skills for paper conservators

Book conservation skills for paper conservators: a two day workshop

Date:              20th and 21st September 2016

Venue:           The National Library of Scotland,159 Causewayside, Edinburgh EH9 1PH

Two day theory and practical workshop, for 10 delegates, run by Icon accredited book conservator, Caroline Scharfenberg.

The boundary between book and paper conservation is fluid. Book conservators need to cover specialist paper conservation knowledge and paper conservators often need to address mixed collections, which also include bound material. This workshop addresses the need for paper conservators to have a basic knowledge about book structures and the typical damage found in book collections. These skills will enable paper conservators to stabilise book collections and to better assess damage and the required repair.  It will also allow paper conservators to better identify damaged bound material, which will have to be addressed by a professional accredited book conservator.

Cost:   £150.00 Icon Members, £175.00 Non-Icon members

Please bring with you:

A small tool kit containing a paste brush, brush for consolidant in solvent, bone folder, Teflon bone folder, scalpel and 10A blades, spatula, metal ruler, scissors and tweezers and A4 cutting mat.

For enquiries contact the event team at eventsisg@gmail.com

 Bookings and payments through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/book-conservation-skills-for-paper-conservators-a-two-day-workshop-tickets-26486073559

Meet the Committee – Isobel Griffin

In this month’s edition of ‘Meet the Committee’ we hear from Isobel Griffin, Collections Care Manager at the National Library of Scotland…

What is your main area of Conservation?
Preventive conservation, conservation science and management

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?
I am the Publications Officer. I provide encouragement and practical support to help conservators in Scotland write about and publicise their work. At the moment I’m busy planning the Icon Scotland session at the Icon 2016 conference.

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