My Old Friend Clio

I first met Clio in 2005. She lived in a yew avenue and was a favourite of her family. Previously she had broken into many pieces and had been restored. The fragments had been drilled and iron rods inserted to repair her, they had then filled the cracks and missing areas with a resin. Over the years the iron bars had corroded, expanding in the process and pushing off more fragments of marble. By the time I met her Clio had lost both arms and was wobbly on her feet.

The adhesive/filler was removed mechanically and where possible the pieces dis-engaged from the iron rods. Each fragment, bagged and labelled was washed and the stains removed as far as possible using a reagent poultice. It was not possible to remove all of the iron bars because to do so would damage the already fragile marble. Where this was the case, and where the iron rods were protruding, they were cleaned and chemically stabilised before applying zinc primer and a resin protective coating. The fragments were then reconstructed using an Italian polyester adhesive / filler designed for marble conservation.

Clio back in place in 2005

As you can see, in 2005 Clio’s arms were missing. In 2011 Clio returned to the studio, her right arm and her left hand had been found, though her left forearm was still missing. Over the 6 years since I had seen her she had been in her yew avenue. Technology had moved on and so this was an opportunity to re-visit the old restoration.

Clio had suffered the vagaries of the weather and her surface was more pitted and was again dirty and covered with accretions and moss growth – though interestingly the blackening appeared less, possibly due to an improvement in air quality. The 2006 repairs were still sound and of good colour, but dirt and mould had seeped into the joins. The marble had eroded where water had collected, for example at the skirt.

This time she was cleaned using ‘Arte Mundit’ – a system developed during the restoration of St. Pauls in London. The colour of the cleaned Clio emulated the colour of the replaced arm which had been kept indoors. The old joins were mechanically removed as far as the bonded surface and the bonds re-enforced with the Italian polyester resin. Where possible again visible iron was either removed or treated and coated.

An exterior marble filler, unknown in 2005, was toned with marble dust and pigments and used this time to re-fill the repairs on all except the ankle area, for which epoxy mixed with marble dust and pigment was considered a stronger filler.

The right arm was complete but in fragments at the shoulder. The arm hangs straight down, and the position of the fragments meant that even with the stainless steel dowel used, this last join would be weak. The owners did not want to have a horizontal dowel fixed between the arm and the torso as this would, rightly, upset the visual appearance of the sculpture. Aware of this a stainless steel dowel and epoxy resin was used to re-affix the longer arm piece.

The left forearm was was missing, so a new forearm was built onto a stainless steel dowel using the exterior filler and the hand which had been found was attached to this.

As before, I recommended that Clio be brought indoors, or covered in the Winter. But Clio is a loved item, a central feature for the family in events such as Easter egg hunts, she needed to stay in her yew avenue.

In 2020 I was invited back to work on Clio once more. Sadly, her arm at the vertical join had dropped off, though the fragments at the shoulder were still firmly in position. The ankle too had aged, the epoxy had slumped and cracked. I was wrong, the polyester resin is a much better material to use.

Clio again was dirty and this time covered in lichen – well at least in 2011 the air quality can be considered better! Also, interestingly, the exterior filler used for the fills and to reconstruct the forearm were not affected by discolouration.

This time Clio was washed using steam cleaners. Again the filler was removed and the polyester syringed into the cracks, the exterior filler was then re-applied. The polyester was used to re-adhere her arm onto the dowel and to re-construct the ankle (apologies, I don’t have a decent picture of the ankle).

I am glad to say that Clio is now protected from the weather in the loggia.

Lessons learned? Yes plenty. This project has been a lesson, not only in the history of treatments to outdoor marble sculpture, but to how marble responds to the materials. Iron is no longer used as dowelling (though there are many sculptures which are still suffering from their use), and the resin of earlier days discoloured badly. Using a poultice to remove or reduce iron staining has to be carefully controlled – draw the stain out too far and you may find you are bringing more stain to the surface than you are removing!

I had thought that epoxy would be a good restoration material for adhering and re-building areas, but no, the Italian polyester and the now commonly used re-enforced plaster are by far more robust and long-lasting than those which have gone before. We cannot control the weather, but by bringing outdoor sculpture under cover, or by protecting it in the Winter months we will contribute to its longevity.

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