Last week, fine art conservator Andrew Baxter was here on site to treat our bronze sculpture of Sea Hero. Andrew specializes in sculpture conservation and has worked on metal and stone art objects at major institutions like the National Gallery of Art, the White House, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (and the NSLM!). He will be presenting at our upcoming program Hero in the Homestretch: The Sea Hero Symposium on May 30th. Here is a sneak peak at some of the trade secrets he will be sharing in his presentation.

The amazing thing about conservation is, it’s about art and science! This is one of the few times you will see this art historian get excited about math and chemistry!

So how do you go from this:

Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and "channels" created by rain water.
Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and streaks created by rain water.

To this?

Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, new patina, and waxing.
Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, wax, and polishing.

Not surprisingly, conserving an outdoor sculpture starts with the basics – getting it clean.

Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.
Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.

One of the many fun facts I learned last week: Orvus is a shampoo that many horse people are familiar with for cleaning up their equine friends. This same shampoo used to be widely utilized (and is still sometimes used) on bronze sculptures because of it’s non-corrosive nature. Andrew used a similar cleaning agent.

Next comes some more chemistry. The sculpture is treated with a solution which helps slow corrosion. Bronze metal is actually a combination of copper and tin. As most of us have seen, copper wants to turn green when it is out in the elements. While sometimes those green tints and weathered appearance can look beautiful, for bronze they are actually evidence of corrosion (think rust) which ultimately shortens the lifespan of the metal.

Sea Hero during treatment.
Sea Hero during treatment.

Our conservator then carefully applied layers of pigmented wax to protect the bronze and enhance the dark bay (brown-black) patina of the sculpture. Lots of polishing – and a perfectly warm and sunny day – resulted in the gleaming horse you see now in the boxwood garden.

Sea Hero after treatment.
Sea Hero after treatment.

If you want to learn more about how to care for sculptures, and see great images of some of the other beautiful pieces Andrew has worked on, don’t miss his presentation at the symposium! He’ll also be sharing some wonderful stories of his time working for the great philanthropist and art collector Paul Mellon. Also presenting will be Ben Gage – an expert sculpture handler who has installed some amazing large scale artwork. (He is also one of the most enthusiastic art professionals you will ever meet!) And if you’re curious to learn more about the celebrity model for our bronze, racing historian and author Ed Bowen will be speaking about Mellon’s Rokeby Stables and Sea Hero the horse. Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is currently living a life of luxury in Turkey. His 1993 Derby win was the first for owner Paul Mellon, trainer Mackenzie Miller and jockey Jerry Bailey.

Come join us to learn more about them all on May 30th! To read more and register, click here or call us: (540) 687-6542 x. 25