Statue conservation at Hughenden
Conservation work is not just about caring for the precious items in the house collection, garden statuary and sculpture are equally at risk from damage and decay.
Wind-blown pollen and dirt can stick to statues dampened by rain, and animals, birds and insects, not known to be great respecters of artworks, and their droppings can encourage the growth of moss, lichen and fungi.
When the first frosts are on the way, it’s time for the house team and conservation volunteers to put the statue covers on to protect Disraeli’s historic sculptures.
Water ingress is very damaging to sculpture; it travels into the pores and fissures of the statue and expands when it freezes. To protect against this, and low temperatures, we wrap our statues for the winter. In the past, we have used dark blue bulky sleeping-bag style covers, but this year, we are trialling a new form, a white Tyvek close-wrap.
Tyvek is a conservation-grade material that allows water vapour to escape and the statue to 'breathe', whilst preventing water from getting in. Using white cord and tape, the team draped sheets of Tyvek around the forms of the statues so you can still see their shape. This means visitors will be able to enjoy the statues even during the five months that they need to be covered for winter.
As soon as the weather warms in the spring the covers come off the historic statuary and the conservation cleaning begins to preserve the statues as they were originally intended to be.
‘We wet-clean using a diluted conservation grade detergent and gently scrub using recommended brushes,’ says House Steward Katarina Robinson. ‘It’s akin to washing your face; a little water and a brush help to keep the pores clear of clogging dirt and polluting grime. We condition check each one to note signs of deterioration as part of the work.'
Next time you’re wandering the grounds at Hughenden, take a closer look at the statues and think of our team, hard at work with their brushes and sponges. Why not ask the House team for information on any of the pieces that pique your interest? There's a tale of romance behind many.