Although it may certainly sound like it, the title of this post is not about me! This is the new restoration job I have in Birmingham. And yes, these are some peculiar sculptures at first glance but I think with a little knowledge of their history they make more sense. These are two (see below also), wall-hanging sculptures that were created by Southern artist Frank Fleming for a particular private school in Birmingham. If you check out the link you can see much more of Mr. Fleming's work and the wonderful animals and iconic southern imagery that runs through all his work. You an also get the idea that his work is quite pricey, and you'd be correct. Most of his work is cast bronze but he does do some work in clay and these are made of a mid-range, white stoneware. So, how did a school come up with the funds to purchase work of this nature? Well, basically, it's a private school for rich folk to send their kids to and the campus and buildings are full of sculptures and paintings, mostly by Southern artists.
I have long been a fan of Mr. Fleming's work and, if you once again check out where and who collects his work, you can guess that this is an honor and a privilege for me to be able to restore these pieces. I really enjoy doing this kind of work and always feel great satisfaction in completing a job where you can no longer tell there is anything wrong with the piece. I've joked around that I have always thought I would have made a great counterfeiter, because I can usually replicate the style of anything I repair, but since I don't really want to go to prison I'll stick with this. I would really love to expand and do more work like this, maybe even outside of Alabama, but it's not every day that somebody busts a big sculpture, thank goodness.
The school recently did a large remodel/ addition and during the transition of moving these pieces were damaged. As you may be able to see, they are rather delicate in construction, extremely heavy and awkward to move, so it's not surprising to me that this happened. And when you throw in some construction workers that are not used to dealing with such it can end badly. Having been both an artist and construction worker I can see both sides and understand the issues involved. And I have sympathy for both sides involved.
When I work on things like this I also have to laugh a little at all the times I was ridiculed for getting a degree in art and for working in construction. "What can you do with an art degree?" "You ain't got any business working in construction" Blah, blah, blah. Then all the people that laughed at me go on to complain about how they hate their jobs but can't quit because they owe so much money and don't have time for this or that. And I just laugh as I enjoy my day and the satisfaction of doing a good job and then I go home to my paid-for home that I built. Haha! When I was graduating from high school I would have never, ever thought I would have ended up in the careers that I did but it's been almost magical how things have worked out for me once I decided to follow my heart and not what other people said I should do.
I have found all the connections to this job interesting also. Most of you all know that the construction firm I used to work for went completely out of business. Well, a few people such as myself, just retired from the business but most of the others went to work for other companies or in related fields and one superintendent that I worked for several times is now this school's head of maintenance and construction. I had done one large restoration project on one of his jobs for Brice and so he knew I could do the work. He told the school officials, you need to get this lady to do the repairs and so they contacted me. It's also another great example of how the men I worked with have always helped and promoted me. If you always really try to do your best and produce a good product I believe people will notice and they will remember.
So, the first thing on a project like this is to clean everything well. I also requested that they go ahead and install the pieces in their new location so that I could do my repairs in place. That way there would be no chance of things being broken again when they were moving them to install. And as it turned out, there were a couple of new, small breaks in the moving.
After cleaning the puzzle work begins. Mr. Fleming requested a certain type glue to be used and turns out it was what I use anyway. The trick to putting something like this back together is that you use very little glue. If it squishes out when you put the two pieces back together then you used too much and not only is it messy but the volume of glue will keep the pieces from fitting as tightly as they should. Sometimes the crack is going to be visible and sometimes it will virtually disappear. There is also the inevitable chunks that end up missing on a project like this. I use a two-part paste epoxy to fill in these areas and the cracks. Works great and you can usually never see the finished repair. Well, if you know how to work it that is!
After the broken pieces were reassembled I then started reattaching the pieces to the main structure. That is painter's tape you see holding pieces on until the glue sets. The glue is also a fairly quick setting type but I like for something to be holding it until it is completely cured. Now, the epoxy paste never quite matches the color of the clay or material so I use a color matched paint to hide the repairs. I hate to use paint on a piece but that is usually all you can do.
Oh, there was one other fun fact of this job: If you have read my blog from almost the beginning, you may remember when I worked on The Big House. I did a number of fun restoration projects on that job and it is just down the road a piece from the school I am working at now. (That'll give you an idea of just how wealthy this area is) In fact, the man that owns that house now went to this school and as he used to walk by the Big House on his way to class he would tell himself that he would own that house one day. Or so the story goes anyway. When I was browsing through Mr. Fleming's website I looked at the "news" section and recognized The Big House from several photos showing some large, outdoor bronzes he has done on commission recently. I have also done work at several other houses in this area over the years and it's kinda funny how I keep getting work to come back to this particular area. I am as poor as a church mouse compared to these people and it's an interesting world to occasionally work in. I'll try to get a few photos of the surrounding area next time I'm over there.