Clean as a Whistle

In the past, we have discussed how we cover our stone sculptures on campus to protect them in the winter. But what about the many bronze sculptures? Europe and the Bull? Persephone? The Centaurs?

These pieces are more robust and able to withstand what winter throws at them, but they still need some love each year.

Each spring since 1987, the Community has brought in Venus Bronze Works to recondition the bronzes across the campus. Venus Bronze Works is a member of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, which means all the cleaning they do is in accordance with AIC’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.

All sculptures are inspected and cleaned by dusting them off with compressed air or wet down and washed with a mild detergent, sponges, soft bristle brushes, and fine cotton pads.

Terra Gillis of Venus Bronze Works gives Carl Milles’s Sunglitter (also know as Naiad and Dolphin, CAM 2002.1) a quick shower, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.
Harlow Toland of Venus Bronze Works gives one of Carl Milles’s Running Deer (CAM 1934.30) a good scrub, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

When the works are dried, one or two thin coats of wax are applied and the sculptures are buffed. This wax can be applied directly from the container or applied to a hot surface (by heating the sculpture with a propane-fed torch).

Giorgio Gikas, founder of Venus Bronze Works, holds the torch while his assistants Harlow Toland and Sara Myefski help prepare Triton with Fishes in the Triton Pools at Cranbrook Art Museum to receive a hot wax treatment, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

This wax acts as a barrier to the air and humidity on the bronze surface and prevents damaging oxidization or corrosion from developing. When deciding how each individual work is cleaned, we look back to the artist’s intent for each sculpture (was it meant to be patinated green? dark bronze? polished? gilded?) and treat it accordingly.

Venus Bronze Works cleans and waxes all the Milles sculptures at the Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Cranbrook Institute of Science. They also work on such sculptures as Brookside’s Birds in Flight; Kingswood’s Dancing Girls and Diana; Cranbrook House and Gardens’ Fortuna delle Tartaruga (Turtle Fountain); and Cranbrook School’s athletic sculptures. Check out a recent Instagram post about the athletic sculptures below:

We are excited to start welcoming visitors back to our campus this summer, so you can all see the beautiful sculpture in their freshened-up glory.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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