This sculpture was commissioned by More London as part of a public art programme for its development by Tower Bridge. It consists of two life-sized painted wooden figures mounted on sections of tree trunk. The trunk supporting the male figure starts at ground level and the female figure is mounted on the roof of a small kiosk. They both tower about six metres above the ground.
The client initially requested a treatment proposal because the paint on the trunks was flaking and the wood near the base of the male figure’s support was showing some signs of rot. Fortunately, the artist had left maintenance instructions for the sculptures in which he expressed his opinion that some cracking and ageing of the surface was to be expected and was acceptable from his point of view. Our aim was therefore to clean the figures and retouch them so that they did not look overly restored. However, the paint on the trunk was so badly damaged that we consulted the artist to discuss whether it would be possible to remove the flaking paint from the bases and to repaint them matching the original paint and colour. Although details of the original paint were no longer available, he agreed to our proposal if we could find a suitable paint match.
Once the sculpture was deinstalled we collaborated with a specialist in the detection and treatment of wood decay. Further investigation revealed that the decay was far more extensive than we initially thought. Water had penetrated directly through the end grain at the top of both trunks, as well as the wood at the base of the male figure, causing extensive rot deep within the interior of the supporting trunks. In addition, there was a great deal of rot at the surface caused by water accumulating under the original paint layer.
The surface rot was treated and consolidated. The structurally unsound rotted wood was removed from the interior of the bases and rot treatments inserted to protect the wood in future. The base around the female sculpture was so decayed that the removal of unsound wood left a large cavity beneath her feet and it was necessary to separate her entirely from her base. Reinforcing rods were inserted through the feet and into the legs of the female figure to ensure a structurally sound connection with the base when repaired. The cavity in the base was fully consolidated and filled with epoxy resin before she was lifted and relocated to her original position, with a supporting framework to hold her in place whilst the resin set.
The figures were fully cleaned and retouched. Small areas of surface rot were treated and filled. The crack in the head of the male figure and a loose thumb on his hand was dowelled to provide structural strength. The cracks in the heads of both figures were filled to prevent as much water ingress as possible. The trunks were repainted with breathable paint matched to the original colour, as agreed with the artist.
A thin layer of epoxy filler was applied over the top of the end grain around the feet of each figure. This is a compromise in aesthetic terms but is not visible on display. It was inpainted to match, as much as possible, the original colour of the weathered wood, and will be crucial in preventing water penetration through the end grain in future.
Sadly, it was necessary to remove the lower part of the base on the male figure because the wood was so weakened by decay. With the approval of the artist, a bronze base was added to ensure that the sculpture is still displayed at its original height.
Although it was necessary to undertake a far more interventive treatment than originally planned, we strove to retain the original surface and desired finish as far as possible and the artist approved the finished result. Maintenance will now be programmed on a regular basis so that the sculptures can still be enjoyed in the city for many years to come.
With thanks to:
Rosie Glenn, art curator and consultant.
Cedric’s Works which undertook treatment of the rotted wood with us, and Rotafix Ltd for providing specialist materials and advice.
Mtec for providing treatment space and handling. They also designed and made the base with Arup.
Tower Bridge, London