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Lesson 3 : Taking Care of Art / Part 2: Caretakers



What's the Condition of the Southwest Pieta?

The conservator who visited the university campus to assess the condition of the Southwest Pieta had previously studied the condition of the Albuquerque cast and had talked with the artist, so he knew a lot before he arrived on site. Unlike many outdoor sculptures made of materials such as granite, cooper, or bronze, he knew about the pioneering methods Luis Jiménez used to make his fiberglass sculpture and even the brands of paints and clear coat that he had applied to its surface. He was also aware that Jiménez intended for his works to be accessible to people.

The conservator arrived on site with an assistant, still and video cameras, a laptop computer, measuring instruments, and containers for samples. While his assistant made sketches of the sculpture from different angles, the conservator entered observations into a database on his laptop computer.

He found a chip broken from the back of the sculpture.

He and his assistant carefully measured the exposed area…

… and figured out exactly where the chip came from before saving it in a plastic container.

They gently removed a flaking section of the clear coat, …

… collected it in a container, and labeled it for later analysis.

The conservator explains that as shade moves with the sun through the day, the difference in temperature in shade and in direct sunlight can change 10 to 20 degrees in less than a minute, which stresses the layers of fiberglass, paint, and clear coat.

At least five times the conservator circled the sculpture videotaping it at a distance, at base level, then higher and higher, till he had footage of every square inch of its surface.

Finally he shot up-close photographs of problem areas, …

… such as oil collecting on the snake,…

… a missing screw,…

… tagging,…

… scratched initials,…

…and paint.

The conservator confirmed that the clear coat had protected the paint beneath.


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