African Art -
Stone sculptures - statues: Maintenance
Heating of a larger sculpture
At first - a general story:
Each sculpture is created out of a single piece of stone and completely handmade. The astonishing range of colour and texture in the sculpture – creating the impression sometimes of different stones that are joined together – is achieved by using different carving techniques, leaving parts of the stone unworked, and by polishing other parts.
Beeswax or transparent wood wax is applied to those parts that are polished, adding layer upon layer, using a paint brush (without metal parts). The heated stone sucks in the wax. The next day, when the sculpture has cooled, the waxed parts are buffed to a shine by hand, using a soft cloth.
Polishing always holds an element of surprise for the artist, as it makes vivid the subtle colours deep within the stone. No colouring is added – the variety of colours and patterns in the stone is all natural.
There are more than 200 documented types and shades of Zimbabwean stone. The ones used for sculpting range in hardness from about 4/10 to 8/10 – all much harder than what is what is colloquially known as Soapstone.
The source of these riches is the Great Dyke, a 500km ridge that is 2.5 billion years-old, abounding in mineral wealth of every description, which forms the geological backbone of Zimbabwe. It is the complex combination of these minerals that gives Zimbabwean sculptors, an unparalleled array of stone to work with.
Some suppliers claim that all sculptures are guaranteed to withstand the Northern winter as outdoor pieces. By experience we know that this is not a fact. The harder the stone the better it will withstand moisture / frost influences. Consequently Verdite and Springstone are the best to use in the Northern winter. BUT much will also depend on the making of the sculpture. If every part is covered by wax, the wax will also protect the sculpture. Many sculptures are, however, not completely covered thus, even if it concerns springstone, they are more in risk with frost. Especially the brown parts of many pieces easily absorb water, we often protect these parts by impregnating them with a special stone imprenation product.
Take care of your sculpture:
Some people use a kind of oil or spray polish on the sculpture - we, however, always use a “clear” wax.Something like a beeswax or the wax you might use on your homefurniture or wooden floor. As long as no colour is added to the wax as, in many cases, with antique wax. We believe that an oil will remain sticky does attracting dust
Your sculpture is kept indoors:
Only ever need a dust. But if you often stroke the sculpture this will also remove the wax and you have to deal with that as indicated below. Becarefull with rings ! They will easily make scratches on the sculpture.
Sculpture displayed outdoors:
The sculpture will gradually lose its shine. Especially if the piece is exposed to sunshine for the major part of the day the sun will accelerate the process. Consequently if the piece is in the shadow the whole day the piece will only loose it shine slowly. The sun accelerates this process.
To rejuvenate a dulled finish, you need to apply a new coat of wax and polish it up. We use the same clear wax as the Zimbabwean artists do, but you can substitute it with beeswax or clear furniture wax. On a hot sunny day, put the sculpture in the sunshine so that it heats up - and put the wax in the sun too so that it's not completely hard. Use a clean rag / paint brush and rub a small amount of wax onto the surface of the sculpture. Not too much. Wait till the sculpture is complete cool again. Then get a clean, soft cloth and rub the waxed area vigorously until it buffs up.
Repairing scratches and chips
If your sculpture is scratched, more radical treatment is required. You need to use wet and dry sandpaper to remove a scratch. Use a fairly coarse grade first, followed by a less coarse one, and finish with a very fine grade. We use 320, 600 and 1200, but some Zimbabwean artists go as far as 3000; some British sculptors are content with just 320! Dip the sandpaper in water, and then use a circular action, pressing gently. Remove the mark with 320, and remove the scratches from the 320 with the 600, and get a smooth finish with the 1200. TIP Wash the sculpture well and let it dry between each grade so that you can see more clearly the progress and if you've missed anywhere. If in doubt start with a middle coarse and see what happens! Do not be scared – you will notice that the stone “turns” grey – because you remove the wax and the wax gives the colour. Do not worry you are going to replace the wax = the colour.
Some chips can be removed with a file or rasp; others can only be remedied with sandpaper. This mainly depends on where the damage is i.e. whether it allows access for the file. If you use a file, follow the line of the sculpture to get a sympathetic repair. Once you're happy with the new shape, sand as above. This is major repair and you might prefer to take advantage of our expertise.
Once the marks have been sanded away and the sculpture feels smooth, you need to apply a fresh coat of wax. This must be done when the stone is hot. There are a variety of methods of heating the stone, and it depends on the size of the sculpture and the type of stone as well as what you have to hand. You can put a small sculpture in the oven, but this is only advisable if you need to rewax the whole piece. If you have only repaired a small area, you are probably better off using our favoured method - using a hot air gun or a blowtorch. These enable you to heat a specific area.
Heat the stone until it is hot. How hot depends on the type of stone, but generally a hard serpentine e.g. springstone should be heated more than a soft one e.g. opal stone. Use a clean rag and rub clear wax onto the surface of the sculpture. Leave it to cool. Once it is cool, but before it is cold, use a clean soft cloth to buff it to a deep shine. The danger here is that some stones need more heat than others, some need more wax than others, and some shine up better when polished when cold whilst others become virtually impossible to polish once the wax has been left too long. This is where our expertise is invaluable.
This information is given without accepting any responsibility should this treatment fail or even more damage the sculpture. You are handling the sculpture at your own risk and responsibility.
Below you will find an artist from Zimbabwe showing the final proces of his sculpture consequently the sanding / heating / waxing, have fun
The majority of the wax is gone
and the sculpture is "hot"
because of the sun