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How to care for your bronze sculpture

A properly produced, bronze sculpture will require very little care and maintenance, particularly if it resides indoors and in a controlled environment. However, even the best home for a sculpture will have the occasional rampaging dust bunny, toffee-covered toddler or the accidentally spilled martini.

In most cases, the only maintenance needed will be dusting with a soft, lint-free cloth, feather duster or a natural-bristled brush. DO NOT use any Brasso®, cleaners, abrasives, furniture polishes or metal polishes on a sculpture. These products will damage the surface sealant and the patina (colour) of the bronze. If dusting may not be sufficient, the simplest and safest method for cleaning is warm (not hot!) water and a soft, lint-free cloth. Avoid wetting wooden or stone bases. If possible, remove piece from base if mounting is easily accessible. A soft brush may be used on deep surface textures or on hard-to-reach places.

If there is considerable buildup of soil or pollution, a mild soap (natural green or gentle dish soap) may be used sparingly with warm water and a soft cloth or brush. Vigorous scrubbing may damage the surface, so care should be taken to be gentle and patient. The piece will need to be rinsed thoroughly to remove any soap residue after cleaning. If the surface is de-faced with paints or inks, the corresponding solvent may be required. Try gradually stronger solvents until the foreign matter is dissolved. If the solution is increased incrementally, the hope is that the invading substance will be removed without damage to the patina. However, most paints and, in particular, permanent marking pens require such a strong solvent solution that the patina will be damaged. (The ink in permanent markers has a fine enough molecular structure to actually be absorbed by the bronze. Removing it gently and effectively is often a great challenge.) If this is the case, it is recommended to call in a qualified restorer who may have to retouch the patina after removing the offending material.

Outdoor pieces are exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, acid rain, exhaust emissions and a host of potentially unpleasant substances and actions. As, a result of the extreme conditions outdoor works are subjected to, they require cleaning, re-sealing and structural evaluation far more frequently than indoor works. Indoor pieces will only need to be resealed if they have been damaged, are extremely old or have been sealed improperly. It is recommended that a professional evaluation take place yearly for outdoor public works and bi-annually for private works. A professional restorer can evaluate and perform routine maintenance that will extend the life of the sculpture and keep it aesthetically true to the original intent of the artist. Outdoor works are subjected to extreme variations in temperature, acts of vandalism and unfortunate accidents. A structural evaluation may identify potential hazards on large works before they become a threat to either bystander safety or to the sculpture's structural integrity.

Questions about sculpture care and maintenance may be directed to a restorer, foundry, academic institution, gallery or museum. Addressing concerns and offering guidance to the necessary professionals are some of many services that reputable institutions are happy to provide. A properly maintained bronze casting will last for millennia, providing future generations with a sense of continuity and enjoyment. For more information, please request the publication, The Care & Feeding of Your Bronze Sculpture by Boudiccea Castings from the Pretoria Arts Association.

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