A recent project I was asked to look at came from one of our regular customers at our studio. This was a sculpture she had purchased from an artist about a year ago. It is a 3 dimensional portrait of Van Gogh in a frame. It’s actually very cool and was made very well, except for the fact that it was all busted up…
Essentially, what happened was the wire holding it up snapped one day and it just fell off my customer’s wall and smashed into countless pieces. This is because it was cast in plaster and as a result, was extremely heavy for its relatively small size of approximately 11 x 14 inches. After years of working in the framing business, it took me about a second to see why this happened. The artist didn’t use the proper wire on the back of the piece. This in itself is not that uncommon. More often than not, and despite the level of execution for the finished art work, artists tend to know very little about hanging. Maybe this should be mandatory learning in all art schools, because I see it time and again. A little education can go a long way. When I started my first year of art school at Emily Carr in Vancouver, BC, I needed to find part time work and got my first job in a framing shop. To me it served two purposes: providing income while studying, and also learning new skills that I knew would help me down the road as I created my own art work. 30 years later, I see that it was a smart move on my part, since this experience has helped me on a multitude of art-related projects.
But back to Van Gogh…my customer tried endlessly searching for the artist online, but to no avail. Naturally, she thought he might be the best person suited for repair since he created it. This brings up another point, which is the importance for artists to maintain an online presence if they plan on selling their work. This is obviously good for acquiring new business, but it also allows past customers to contact you for whatever reason. This particular sculpture was one in a limited edition of several. To me, the odds of this being the only piece the artist made where the wire snapped is very slim. I’m not judging or placing blame. I’m just saying it’s good business practice to be readily available to your collectors. Everyone drops the ball at some point. But, by sharing information like this we can help remind each other of the importance of some things that are sometimes easily overlooked.
In any event, my customer didn’t think anything could be done since it was so smashed up from the fall. Without making any promises, but feeling fairly confident, I took it on. It seemed like a really complex puzzle, since I knew most of the pieces were still there. I just had to piece them all together and fill in the blanks. I do have a sculpting background, and plaster is not that foreign to me. Still, I researched everything I could on repairing broken plaster sculptures to make sure what I was going to do would last and it wouldn’t once again come crashing down. I ended up going with a super strong glue – the kind used to adhere mirrors to walls and ceilings. It’s a bit messy, but I got the hang of it, and it seemed to do the job nicely.
Once I had everything pieced back together, I was able to see what had to be rebuilt. I used a plaster compound to fill in cracks and build up areas. For the new wire, I used a heavy duty framing wire capable of holding up to 100 lbs (just to be on the safe side). Instead of just two insertion points, which the artist originally made, I dug a channel all around the perimeter of the back of the plaster frame and ran a continuous wire that couldn’t accidentally pop out. Braided picture wire is very strong. Even though it also comes plastic coated now, I felt the glue would really get into the uncoated braided wire and get a solid grip on it. In the end, I painted all the cracks and new areas to match the original. And voila! A fully restored piece just like the day my customer first put it on her wall. I’m sorry for the lack of step-by-step photos showing the transformation. I guess I was too immersed in the project to remember to take photos. (note to self…remember to take lots of photos!)