The thing I love most about our business is that you never know
what is going to roll into our studio for treatment!
Earlier this year, a new client sent the images below,
along with the image of his aunt above,
asking us if we could help him with the family circus ball.
Yes, that’s right, a circus ball!
His family has many circus performers (the family business)
and this is one of the surviving
circus balls. This ball, shown top (the smaller ball in a photo still of his aunt with her props) was used as a balancing ball in circus acts.
The problem was another family member had the ball in her possession temporarily and decided to strip in order to paint it,
with the idea of letting her
children learn to use it.
She used chemical strippers, a huge problem with antique wood.
The damage done to the ball with strippers has ensured that
this antique now needs to be retired from future performances.
(This is where many readers will start crying, knowing what stripping does to old wood.)
The stripping chemicals had indeed done their work on the old wood, opening the old grain and lifted and separated the wood, which prior to this chemical strip was appears to have been in good condition. Had it been brought to us we would not have stripped it!
IF we had to strip it then we would have either done it through gentle sanding
(no electric sanders) or through a different kind of gentle chemical strip.
NEVER ever ever use what you find at the hardware store to strip an antique!
Our job is to repair the lifting wood as much as possible
(thankfully our client no longer intends the ball be used)
and then paint it in its original colors, which are silver and brilliant blue.
We will repair using a combination of possibilities,
including hide glue and possibly museum approved compounds.
Before I start showing you the restoration process, first let’s take a moment to
marvel at this extraordinary ball. I rarely post full-size images, but the texture
on this damaged ball is so beautiful, and the construction so extraordinary,
that the one above is full size. (Double click to get the full effect.)
The ball was made with pieces of wood which were pieced together
(probably with hide glue) then rounded into the ball shape.
Square head nails were used, and then there is the interesting rectangular fastener, above.
I am not a woodworker, and so I am not good at telling you more than this.
(Woodworkers may weigh in as they like!)
Our process for this project is to repair the damage done by the stripper,
then to paint the ball using the same type of paints, bringing it to its glory days.
The repainting is restoration, since the ball was stripped, rather than conservation.
This ball will not be used again, however, but sit on our client’s desk.
As we said in the first installment, the ball was stripped inappropriately.
This led to layers upon layers of lifted desiccated older wood.
Older wood cannot handle the harsh chemical strippers,
which tend to separate the molecules and make them far more brittle.
These layers had to be secured.
One way was to meticulously glue each layer down using hide glue,
which is impractical, given the hundreds of lifted pieces.
We used a museum-approved consolidate, which both filled under the layers,
and also was able to fill huge chunks which fell out during the stripping process.
The consolidate was pulled under the layers, above, and acted as both a glue and fill.
After curing, ridges were smoothed first using chisels, then the ball was sanded to
take the excess consolidate down to the surface. You can once again see the ridges
of the wood and the fasteners, both of which my clients wanted to see.
He was not interested in a new, smooth ball.
We left the Circus Ball as it had been
prepped for its paint layers.
I am so sorry that all my images of the ball sanded smooth are very blurry!
Happily, the detailed images are in sharp!
The first coat of paint dragged as it was applied over the Araldyte.
I checked in with our client, because one problem with our treatment is that
we never were able to see the ball as it was before the stripping caused the wood to lift.
I could not tell if my assumption of the ball’s surface was correct.
I doubted it would have been extremely smooth,
because a performer has to be able to stand, grip and roll on the ball.
Our client told me that the surface looked
very much as it had originally!
I thought that the paint build-up might be more interesting, but truthfully, it is Gamblin’s Silver oil paint, and each coat looks close to the same — so not a photogenic moment!
We left the Circus Ball with four layers of Gamblin Silver Oil Paint.
Time to add the Cobalt Blue star!
Who says one never uses High School math?
Kate used Geometry to create the template for the proper sizes star.
Once on the ball, Mitchell and Kate both felt the star had to be a bit bigger.
Remember, we had no opportunity to measure the star, so had only the image above to judge the size of the star in relation to the size of the ball.
The first coat of paint was dull and streaky. It is matte because I am using
Gamblin’s Fastmatte Cobalt Blue Oil Paint, to aid in the dry time.
We will varnish the entire ball at the end of several coats.
More to come; we are not quite finished!
(Special thanks to our client who allowed us to document his family circus ball!
Maybe we can coax him to share his family story with us!)