Okay, Lauren, what in the heck is this blog post about? Basically, it's an example of when your day as a conservator can bring the unexpected.
I recently got a phone call from my former supervisor, the ceramics conservator extraordinaire, Wendy Walker, who works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have a sculpture by the French artist, Charles-Gabriel Sauvage, depicting Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin commemorating the moment in 1778 that France and the United States signed two treaties between their countries. Wendy has been tasked with treating this sculpture, as it is in need of cleaning, and several fingers are missing from both Louis and Benjamin.
Hand-modeling tiny fingers to look like bisque porcelain would be a difficult task for anyone. And although Wendy is one of the most talented ceramics conservators I know, her work would go much better if she had access to extant fingers from which to take molds. Luckily, Winterthur has a nearly identical sculpture by Sauvage, and – you guessed it – our fingers are intact!
Happy to help, Wendy and I strategized over the phone at the approach I would take. We decided I would use a two-part siloxane putty for each figure hand in need of a mold, and then I would drop these in the mail. Because bisque porcelain is not glazed, it has a measure of porosity to the body that makes it susceptible to absorbing anything applied to it, such components of a silicone or siloxane mold. To limit absorption, I first dusted the figure hands with talcum powder before applying them.
After prepping the surface, I could then proceed, making two-part molds for each hand, or thumb, or pinky.
An update: Benji Franklin has his fingers back
Wendy completed her treatment of the Sauvage sculpture, utilizing the molds from the Winterthur mate. She shared her detail documentation photos after treatment, and you can see that Benji's hands once again have all ten fingers. Awesome work!
Another update: Louis and Benji become Poster Children
A show opened in April 2018 at the MET called Visitors to Versailles (1682-1789), and the newly-conserved Sauvage sculpture was made the poster child for the show. If you find yourself in New York, check it out - the show is up through July 29, 2018.