Conserving the Invocation, Variation #3

 

If you had been to the Ball Brothers Foundation gallery recently, you may have noticed that a work of art was missing from its pedestal. That is because Invocation, Variation #3, sculpted by Theodore Roszak in 1952 was temporarily removed from the gallery for conservation. This work of art has been displayed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1958 and was once the property of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago before it was purchased by David Owsley.  Aaron Nicholson, a sculptor from Indianapolis, has been working to clean and conserve Invocation after staff discovered corrosion of the metal and flux on the surface of the sculpture earlier this month.

Invocation, Variation #3, 1959 Theodore Roszak American, born Poland (1907-1981) nickel, silver, and steel
Invocation, Variation #3, 1959
Theodore Roszak
American, born Poland (1907-1981)
nickel, silver, and steel

In welding, flux is normally applied to a joint before the metal is soldered to keep oxygen off the surface of the metal and at the time Invocation was made the substance would have been clear and had the appearance of glass.Over time a combination of water and air turned the flux back in to powder, making the surface appear white and obscuring the surface of the metals and the artist’s intended effect.

According to Nicholson, the cleaning was essential because it mitigated further deterioration of the metal by removing the flux. Professors and students from the Department of Chemistry scraped off samples for testing which confirmed that the white substance was flux before any cleaning took place. Since then, Nicholson has been gently removing the excessive corrosion and re-waxing the sculpture to slow down further deterioration using Renaissance wax. He does this by heating the surface of the metal to open the pores and then applying wax to the surface. The process seals the pores so that oxygen will not alter the surface further. Although he is working to clean the sculpture and prevent deterioration, Aaron is not polishing or refinishing the work. “With some art you don’t want to refinish the surface because it can devalue the art. Polishing would take away the age and you want to leave evidence about what time the work is from.” Now that the conservation work has been completed, the next step is to return the sculpture to its rightful place in the Ball Brothers Foundation gallery.

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