Care for Outdoor Metal Sculpture

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    • #133032
      Edie Wageman
      Member

      We have several sculptures on our grounds that are made of repurposed metals, primarily steel. They are exposed to sun and rain and have inevitably begun to rust. What is the best way to maintain these sculptures? Is Renaissance Wax a good idea, or would something else be better?

    • #133038
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Edie,

      I work for a US Navy museum with outdoor, metal artifacts. I would first recommend that you take the rust down to one layer than use a rust converter to stabilize it (the converter is black). If you do not desire a black finish, bring it down to bare metal. Renaissance Wax is a great inert product. You want to work in small areas on a hot, dry day. Heat the metal sculpture, and then apply the wax. The warmth of the structure will melt the wax allowing longer protection. Do not heat the wax directly because it is flammable. I also highly recommend the Care of Metals Artifacts class at the Campbell Center http://www.campbellcenter.org/. It is taught by two amazing Metals Conservators. Best of luck!

    • #133037
      Edie Wageman
      Member

      Jennifer – How do I take the rust down to one layer?

    • #133036
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      We use a wire brush to take the rust off. You need to leave a little rust on the artifact in order for the converter to work. If you take all the rust off, down to bare metal, the converter will not work. You can find the rust converter and brushes in any paint or hardware store.

    • #133035

      Edie–Can you tell us more about these sculptures? Are they currently painted and the paint has worn away? Or were they originally coated with anything? Do you know whether the artist intended the sculpture to age and rust? This document gives a good overview of outdoor sculpture care and some of the particular issues with steel:
      http://www.gsa.gov/graphics/pbs/GSA_FineArts_2_Sculpture.pdf
      But tell us more and we can see if a sculpture conservator to weigh in!

    • #133034
      Edie Wageman
      Member

      The sculptures are not painted. They are made from repurposed metal materials, much of which is steel. The artist has not communicated that the sculptures were intended to rust, but has created the sculptures for outdoor display. Our climate is dry year-round with summer monsoons, which create high humidity. The sculptures are not sealed and when it rains, water gets inside and sits.

    • #133033

      Treating the surface of a work of art is different from treating artifacts because aesthetics is a big issue. If the artist is available, I think you should talk to him or her first about preferences related to the appearance of the metal surface.
      Taking off rust with wire brushes can leave scratches which, in turn, will promote more rusting, and, inevitably, the piece will rust again, even if you slow down the process. Typically, when bronze outdoor sculptures are treated, after the cleaning, a resinous coating is applied first, with wax on top. The wax can be removed and re-applied without removing the resinous coating. I don’t know if this approach is transferable to steel, but I recommend getting more information from conservators who treat this kind of sculpture before you do anything.

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