Cleaning & Handling Bronze Art
Bronzes by their very nature require very little maintenance.
A bronze has two important surface layers:
1. Patina: This is the name for the final ‘colour’ of the bronze.
Bronze in its natural state is a shiny gold colour. When it is still at the foundry chemicals are used together with a flame from a blow torch to ‘burn’ the required colour onto the top surface of the bronze. (Anything from dark chocolate to a creamy white colour is made by this process).
2. Wax: The very last step in the foundry process is when a coat of wax is applied to the bronze piece. This helps create a barrier to humidity in the air that can cause the bronze to oxidize / ‘go green’.
Thereafter waxing can then be applied by the gallery or client once a year.
So it is very important to not damage these two final layers by simply being aware and careful as to how to handle and clean a bronze sculpture.
Cleaning & Waxing:
The final wax layer done in the Foundry also creates a pleasing sheen to the piece.
Waxing is usually done when the bronze is still warm as it allows the wax to enter the pores of the bronze. This layer of wax will last at least a year – unless the piece has accidentally been cleaned aggressively with an abrasive cleaning product. Thereafter it can be waxed by the Gallery or client once a year (see below on how).
The most important thing is not to clean the piece with any cleaning agent (Handy Andy, Windolene etc) as this will eat through the wax coat and into the patina and damage the piece.
Dusting: Rather use a soft, clean cloth to dust. Once a week or fortnight is fine.
Cleaning: Only if the piece has been very neglected or is very grimy will this be necessary and then simple mild soap and water will do the trick. Use a few drops of mild, unscented dish-washing liquid in a bowl. Dampen a cloth and wipe down – use a soft toothbrush to get into any fine grooves or intricate detailed areas.
Rinse the cloth and wipe down with clean water to remove the soap residue. Don’t pour water over and onto the sculpture as the base often has felt underneath it and the water may damage this.
Allow the piece to dry completely before waxing. (You don’t want any moisture on the piece when you apply the wax layer. So allow to dry for + 3 hours.)
Waxing: Only use a plain clear paste wax.
See the picture here of two varieties that are locally available from any good hardware store.
“Antique Wax” (preferable out of the two) is made by Woodoc. The smallest tin is fine as you need very little of it.
Kiwi Shoe Polish - must be ‘Neutral’ colour.
Applying wax: Using a soft clean rag, apply a light thin coat and allow to dry (+ 20 minutes.) Then buff with a soft, clean cloth like you would a shoe. If the piece lives outdoors you could apply a second coat.
Waxing only needs to be done once a year.
Handling/carrying/installing a bronze:
When handling a piece, and if it’s a piece that hangs from the ceiling - be very careful to not allow the cable or safety hooks to lie against or scrape against the bronze. This will scratch the top waxed and into the patina itself. The only way to fix this is send the piece back to be re-patinered at the Foundry!
Rather keep the bubble wrap wrapped around the piece until it is hung – then take off.
If boxing or travelling with a piece, make sure it is wrapped in bubble wrap or blankets and that no two pieces are able to rub together.
Marke Meyer Bronzes