Conservation of six 1760’s Stucco Muses, Great Hall Seaton Delaval, NT
Project Client: National Trust, NT Conservator John Wynn Griffiths.
Graciela Ainsworth and her team were chosen to conserve the six 1,900mm in height in-situ stucco plaster Muses, modelled directly over wrought iron armatures and tied into the masonry behind with iron fixings, the Muses were modelled with a jute textile covering as the base for the fine topcoat which also gave form to the delicate drapery flows.The Muses were sculpted high up in-situ and their fixings were also corroding, further adding to the challenges, which already included their poor condition due to the historic fire damage and historic lack of a roof leaving the hall open to the elements for many years, and now the presence of both nesting birds and bats, which, in turn, needed to be respected.
As required by the professional judgement and ethics standards of the PACR, the accredited conservator Graciela Ainsworth faced: the more obvious careful cleaning, grouting, pinning, and filling of the stucco, but also:
1. the major challenge of arresting the extensive damaging corrosion of the Muse’s wrought iron armatures;
2. The consolidation of the jute drapery, after the 2012 National Trust (NT) report determined that no consolidant could be recommended.
Numerous trials and tests were undertaken in order to ascertain the optimum and most appropriate methods for the proposed conservation of the six Muses: the cleaning, consolidation, grouting and pinning of the plaster/lime mortar and brick; and trials to determine the extent of corroding metal within the sculptures by digital X-ray, which would then aid the subsequent treatment method of the metal with Cathodic process.
The programme of works commenced with the X Rays and the photographic documentation. Then the all surfaces were dry cleaned to the Muse and plinth with soft brushes and vacuum. This enabled us to understand the actual condition of the entire sculpture.
At this stage, all the loose sections were carefully lifted from their precarious positions and each section was surface-cleaned back and front and re-attached.
The areas of lime mortar/plaster that were disaggregated were then consolidated.Specific areas were then grouted and documented in the associated diagrams.Open vulnerable areas were then filled with lime based mortar.The condition of the substrate was hidden within the lime plaster, and the damage found there was as expected due to the corroding internal armatures. This was the reason for the crucial metal treatment works.
The treatment for the corroding metal armatures could not be completed until the sculptures was deemed relatively sound.The treatment of the wrought iron armature and visible spars set directly into the masonry was completed using Cathodic procedures and materials.