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Roosevelt's Facial

Roosevelt's Facial

The USAHEC has several statues in its collection. One is a bronze bust of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. This particular bust has been in the collection since the 1960's and has had many homes around Carlisle Barracks. Its current home is in the conservation laboratory, where it is undergoing extensive treatment.

"Teddy" came in to the lab in late June of 2014 for a quick cleaning. During the initial conservation assessment, conservators noticed black "gunk" on his nose. Conservators used acetone soaked cotton swabs to remove the gunk, but noticed that the swabs were coming away black even after the visible gunk was removed.

As conservators continued to clean, Teddy's true coloring was revealed. The dark bronze coloring he had upon arrival in the lab, was actually caused by a thick layer of dust, dirt, smoke and soot accumulated over years of sitting in smoky rooms. His location in front of a window and on top of heating ducts caused the metal to heat and the layers of soiling to become tacky. Finding the best way to remove this layer proved difficult. Acetone and cotton swabs brought out a much lighter bronze, but its effectiveness was not uniform across the bust. Some sections would clean to a bright orange bronze, while others retained a blotchy black appearance. Several solvents were tested with varying degrees of success, but acetone remained the most effective. Since heat played a role in solidifying the deposits, conservators decided to try applying heat to remove them. It was determined that the best way to safely apply localized heat was by using a garment steamer. A small section would be steamed, excess water would be blotted off the surface and then the surface would be cleaned with acetone and cotton swabs. The effects of the heat were only temporary, so the treatment had to be repeated several times in order to achieve maximum success. Large areas of the true coloring were revealed through this process, but some areas remain stubbornly blotchy.

Once the cleaning regime was determined, it was decided to clean one half of the bust in order document the degree of cleaning that was completed. One year, and a lot of elbow grease, acetone, steam, and cotton swabs later, the conservators are almost half way done with Teddy's "facial."

During cleaning, two holes were discovered in Teddy's nose. It is believed that our Teddy wore glasses. Curatorial staff is attempting to locate photographs of the statue wearing glasses which will allow us to recreate these glasses, thus giving the public the opportunity to view Teddy as the artist originally intended.

 
 
 

Roosevelt's Facial Part II

 

Earlier on our page you read about Teddy Roosevelt's facial. You may recall that we decided to only clean half the statue in order to get a true sense of the extent of the treatment. Much time has passed and Teddy has been sitting in the lab, a line down his face, his "facial" on hold while conservators acquired and trained on a new piece of equipment: a conservation laser.

The conservation laser gives conservators the ability to "blast" away the surface soiling covering Teddy in a fraction of the time. Nd:Yag lasers use 1064nm wavelength light to cut through the dirt coating. The laser beam uses light energy to excite the carbon in the surface soiling. The excited carbon atoms break up the surface soiling, turning it to dust, which is carried away by a fume extractor. The laser USAHEC purchased has the added bonus of a rotating circular beam. This beam not only cleans without creating over cleaned areas at the end of the beam path, called "hot spots", but also adjusts itself to the shape of the object being cleaned. This allows us to easily clean areas such as Teddy's bushy mustache and ears without stopping to change angles.

Like all conservation treatments, laser cleaning is not foolproof. Before starting on Teddy, testing was done to determine the energy level which would break up the surface soiling but not damage the underlying bronze. When cleaning bronze with a laser we clean to the cuprite layer. Cuprite is the layer of corrosion just above the bare bronze. Removing the cuprite layer would expose the bare metal to the environment causing further corrosion. By keeping the existing cuprite layer we reduce further metal loss through corrosion.

After laser cleaning, Teddy looks a little bit purple. This purple iridescence is a result of the angle of light refraction off the cuprite. We are able to eliminate this effect by applying a thin barrier of micro-crystalline wax. This wax not only changes the incidence of refraction, eliminating the purple look, but it also serves as a protective layer against the ravages of the environment.