August 2009: Disassembly

May 10, 2010

The cantilever gantry (red) being moved into place to begin disassembly of C 395

After a long and fraught hunt, we located a rigging firm with art experience and the right equipment for our problem pieces (a cantilever gantry). But they were completely booked for the next six weeks, so we weren’t able to disassemble and move the reliefs until the end of August. We still had no idea what would be involved with the disassembly: if we’d have to deal with steel rods between the pieces or old adhesive or what surprises lay between the reliefs and the wall. We didn’t even know how much each relief weighed!The morning we started the process was an extremely scary time for everyone involved.  It didn’t help that the temperature in the Rotunda was in the high 80s.

Harry Gordon gently taps wooden wedges in place to separate the stone fragments of C396.

Luck was most definitely on our side as our rigger, Harry Gordon, is a sculptor who often works in stone and his experience was invaluable in the disassembly process. Using traditional methods such as wooden wedges and precise application of minimal force, Harry and his team were able to pry apart the segments of the reliefs. To our surprise – and horror – there was nothing holding the segments together: no adhesive, no pins, just their own weight on a jerry-rigged wooden plinth . It was small wonder that some of the pieces had shifted over time; the wonder was that they hadn’t moved more!

A detail of the wooden plinth that had been the sole support of the fragmented relief

Each piece was carefully removed and placed on a special heavy-duty dolly Dave Young had built for it. This simple sentence entailed three days of painstaking and difficult work. We had a few moments of humor when we found what had been tucked away behind the reliefs for decades. Later, each relief fragment was removed to a closed gallery space where they could be worked on further.

Julie continued her cleaning of the surfaces, now removing layers of wax that had been applied to the reliefs at some time in the past. This cleaning continued for four more months.