Tuesday, 13 January 2015

CARING FOR YOUR PIECE OF “PIECE BY PIECE"

CONSERVATION TIPS & TRICKS

BY: MADELINE SMOLARZ

If you were able to get to the Gardiner Museum on the last day of Christmas holidays on January 4 and had the time to brave the line that wound outside the institution’s large glass doors throughout the afternoon, you are likely the new owner of a greenware figure that was once a piece of art, quite literally.
  
A view of "Piece by Piece" by Clare Twomey, looking towards the work station that the three original pieces faced from across the room. Source.

Renowned British ceramist Clare Twomey’s installation “Piece By Piece” opened at the Gardiner on October 4 during Nuit Blanche 2014 in celebration of the institution’s 30th anniversary. Located in a large room on the top floor of the three-story building, “Piece by Piece” initially consisted of around 2,000 Leda, Scaramouche, and Harlequin figures, which were made from moulds of the original pieces found in the Museum’s commedia dell’arte collection. These originals were positioned in glass cases on platforms high above the scenes their copies were arranged in on the floor. On the opposite side of the room, a work station was set up. Here, a performer-artist used traditional slip casting techniques to create additional figures to add to the room's ghostly population for three hours every week day while the exhibition was open. Twomey estimated that “Piece by Piece” would grow by approximately 1,000 figures in this way.
  
Artist Clare Twomey at her installation's work station. Source.

Exactly three months later, members of the public were invited to come and “liberate” one piece per person for free outside the regular cost of admission and perhaps the cost of printing out the required electronic ticket.
  
Visitors walk among the greenware pieces during the giveaway event. Source.

Now that you have a Leda, Scaramouche, or Harlequin sitting on your table, shelf, desk, or mantle, you may be wondering how to best care for your prize, especially since you probably spent the better part of your afternoon in that slow-moving line to get it. You might have been startled when you first walked into the room with only three minutes on the clock to choose a piece before the next group came in. Severed arms and heads lay scattered across the floor, telling tales of less careful visitors that came before you. Unlike the original porcelain pieces, the army of pale white copies have not been fired and are therefore much more fragile. Pieces in this stage are known as greenware, prone to break if not handled properly. Therefore, I’ve compiled some “DOs and DON’Ts” to help you provide basic conservation for your Twomey figure.
  
Many sections of the installation featured clusters of figures in various configurations that sometimes included the moulds they were created with. Photo: Madeline Smolarz.

DO:
  • handle greenware with both hands
  • remove the edges and seams (if so desired) with the flat edge of a cleaning tool
  • move diagonally along the seam line with your tool when you are removing a seam
  • clean away dust with a lightly damp sponge
  • allow the greenware to dry thoroughly after cleaning before handling it again
  • place a piece of felt under the piece’s base if it does not sit flat to provide stability

DON’T:
  • pick up greenware by an edge
  • use the curved end of a cleaning tool to remove seams
  • move your tool straight up and down a seam while cleaning it off
  • clean away dust with a soaking wet sponge
  • put your piece in your oven at home to try and fire it yourself (just no)
  • try to fill in any cracks with various household adhesives or homemade mixtures

This is the Leda figure I brought home from the Gardiner Museum. You can see the seams on her face, arm, and dress that I have chosen to leave as they are for now. Photo: Madeline Smolarz

At the end of the day, I would simply recommend either handling your figure as little as possible, or taking it to a studio with a kiln to be fired into the more sustainable “bisque-fired” state. A professional ceramist in line ahead of me on January 4 said that anyone wishing to personalize their piece by painting or glazing it should wait until after firing it, which she was considering. Personally, I think I will be leaving my version of Leda to stand guard on my bookcase in her natural state for now.

Enjoy having a piece of the Gardiner in your home!


Many thanks to fellow Musings Contributor Kathryn Methot for asking me if I was writing a column on the liberation event when we saw each other in line at the Gardiner, thus sparking the idea for this post.

8 comments:

  1. These tips will certainly help me care for my Clare Twomey figurine (which managed to survive a subway ride after leaving the Gardiner). I am sure other people who attended this event would also be interested in reading this to find out how to care for their beautiful (and very fragile) sculptures.

    Glad to have seen a fellow MMSt student braving the long lines to get a unique chance to actually take something out of a museum!

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    1. Congratulations on getting it home safe Katie, that's quite a trip for greenware! I hope that everyone will learn something new that can help them keep their pieces in great shape for as long as possible. It was definitely a wonderful experience for MMSt students and other members of the public alike.

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  2. Unfortunately I was out of town and could not make it to this event, but what a wonderful concept. I especially enjoy your mention of the professional ceramist’s suggestion of personalizing the piece through paint or glaze. I love the idea of giving your piece a new life beyond the exhibit by adding to its current artistic state or merely having it on your bookshelf in a new setting.

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    1. I agree, the idea of altering it to become a combination of your artistic style, Twomey's ideas that informed the installation, and also commedia dell'arte is fascinating!

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  3. What a wonderful event! I'm sad I missed it. Thanks for the tip, Madeline. It's not everyday that the public is welcomed to take home art from museum exhibitions. I imagine most people would have no idea how to properly care for such fragile objects, that remain in an "unfinished" state.

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    1. Thank you, Jamie. It was certainly a unique experience that I was glad several Museum Studies students took part in! I truly didn't know how to care for my piece either until I wrote this article, so I hope it is helpful for all of our readers.

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  4. Excellent suggestions Madeline!! I have a similar looking piece on my bookshelf right now too. But as a heads up for anyone reading this - your piece might already be fired (some of the original 2,000 were). To test this (lightly) flick your statue with the back of your finger nail. If it makes a tin-like "pinging" sound, it's already been fired. If it's a duller sound, then likely it's greenware.
    Good luck!

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    1. I was not aware of that fact, Meaghan. Thank you so much for sharing that some of the pieces may be more sturdy than others!

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