Treating Three-Dimensional Objects

By Lucia Bay, Associate Conservator of Objects

This object is a sculptural relief carved in wood signed “P Luypen” in the lower right. The piece came to The Center housed in a red velvet lined wood frame. According to an assessment done by Richard Raymond Alasko in 1992, Pieter Luypen was a Dutch artist, born 1763, who died sometime after 1810. He notes that the wood is brown oak, depicting a spray of roses, lilies of the valley, lilies, asters, and lilac. There was a reproduction of the carving taken at an angle which at the time of the assessment was our only reference for placing broken elements correctly.

When the carving arrived at The Center, it was in poor condition. Due to an apparently recent incident, nearly 20 pieces broke and detached, plus numerous small fragments that were housed in ten plastic Ziploc bags. It appeared that most pieces were present, although smaller elements may have been lost. Old adhesives and accretions related to previous repairs were present on several of the detached pieces. In addition, there were several historic repairs still intact on the carving, some of which were poorly aligned with visible excessive adhesive. The three central large flowers had large lumps (larger than1x1x1/4”) of white plaster at attachment point at base but these are most likely original. The wood was brittle overall and fragile, and there was a heavy dust and surface debris overall along with accretions, residues, water stains and discoloration overall.

(Above) The carving was removed from frame; there were very large screws attaching the panel into the frame on the sides.

(Above) Testing: Under long-wave ultraviolet light, the historic adhesive auto fluoresced. This was helpful to determine where broken elements might have been adhered previously, aiding in placing broken pieces where historic repairs and failed. The surface fluoresced slightly orange which is characteristic of shellac.

Dry cleaning and surface cleaning: The surface was then vacuumed using a soft brush and further surface dirt was removed with a soot eraser and a groomstick on dental tool for detailed areas.

Structural Stabilization:

  1. Broken and detached pieces were placed by matching the break lines where possible, lining up old adhesive repairs and consulting with the reproduction for guidance. The pieces were numbered and marked on the carving using small pieces of low tack blue tape.
  2. Old adhesive repairs and excessive adhesive on surface were slowly removed using water/ethanol poultice and a small scalpel. Old repairs with poor alignment were removed and re-adhered using Jade. One of the two remaining stamen on Lily #1 had previously been broken in half with a large repair using excessive adhesive. The repair was visually distracting. The Adhesive was removed using a water/ethanol poultice. The break aligned poorly due to lost material. Based on mock ups a very thin splint was made out of bamboo toned to match with acrylic paint and attached to the back of the stamen using Jade. It was attached to side of the break still attached to the lily and tied securely in place using thread. When dry the second half of the stamen was attached to the splint and secured in the same manner.
  3. The small broken detached fragments were re-adhered with Titebond wood glue applied in small amounts, strips of low adhesive blue tape was used to hold them in place as adhesive dried. The wood was dry and brittle that the Titebond dried very quickly.
  4. Larger repairs were done using Jade, which dried slower and allowed for proper alignment of more complex breaks. The three large central flowers with plaster build ups on base were placed using the impressions on the bottom of the plaster. They were marked and re-adhered using Jade bulked with fine sawdust.
  5. Lily #2 and the rose stem at the top of the composition had old, distorted breaks with lost material on their stems with poor repairs. Lily #2 was broken below the flower petals, and the rose stem was broken below the first leaf. After trying to use Jade unsuccessfully, the breaks were repaired with PC Woody epoxy, which would adhere the break and fill lost and worn areas. Stems were supported in place maintaining required shape using small blocks of foam, blue tape and museum wax while the epoxy dried. The following day the epoxy was shaped using a scalpel.

Loss compensation: One small interior loss of Lily #1 petal was filled with Modostuc. Lossed material at beaks on lily #2 and the rose stem were filled with PC Woody. Inpainting: Fills, epoxy repairs and bamboo splint were toned with acrylic paint. Small wood losses and discolored areas where old adhesive was removed were toned to blend with surrounding area using pencil and pastel colors.

The wood remains fragile and brittle after treatment was complete. The surface has been toned with friable material and should not be touched. As the existing frame was too shallow to provide adequate protection for the delicate relief carving and it used an inappropriate method for attaching the original piece in the frame resulting in large holes where the screws went directly into the sides of the wood, replacement framing was recommended.

A decorative frame with additional depth was chosen to compliment and enhance while ensuring sufficient room to safely house the three-dimensional sculpture. Non-reflective Museum Glass was the final touch allowing a clear and crisp view of the treated piece.