Famous Wyoming faces get a lift

Posted 9/21/21

Weather extremes in northwest Wyoming can run from blistering heat to bone-chilling cold. It’s hard on the residents, but it can also take a toll on their likenesses.

The Buffalo Bill Center …

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Famous Wyoming faces get a lift

Posted

Weather extremes in northwest Wyoming can run from blistering heat to bone-chilling cold. It’s hard on the residents, but it can also take a toll on their likenesses.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West recently brought two conservators to help preserve about 30 bronze sculptures that grace the Cody facility, both in museum gardens and on the property.

Dan Kaping, of the Field Museum in Chicago, and Kaitlyn Wright, of the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, worked through Labor Day to carefully remove corrosion, clean and reapply a protective coating of wax to “Hard and Fast All the Way” — a sculpture of a young William Cody by Peter Fillerup.

But unlike the wind rushing through Cody’s hair in the sculpture, the two conservators weren’t impressed with the breeze whistling through Cody on Monday.

“It keeps blowing out our torches,” Kaping said.

Thanks to the blustery conditions, the job was running longer than they had hoped, he said. With several more bronzes to attend to, the two have a lot of work ahead of them.

In 2007, crews spent three weeks returning the sculptures to good condition after the harsh climate discolored the famous works of art and formed harmful crystals in some cases. After the hard work was done, a rotating annual maintenance schedule for the outdoor sculpture collection began, according to museum archives.

Constant handling of the sculptures by visitors can wear down the bronze, said Buffalo Bill Center of the West conservator Beverly Perkins.

“You can love something to death,” Perkins said on a break from assisting the specialists, adding, “If you are compelled to touch sculptures, you should become a conservator.”

It might be a true task to do that. There are only four conservation masters programs in the nation, she said. The center has its own exhibition-driven conservation lab, meaning they work to prepare items to be shown to the public. Fortunately, the center’s collections are in really good shape. The weather in Wyoming, though harsh for outdoor objects, is good for collectibles and artwork. Due to low humidity, objects require less care, she said.

Patina was reapplied by heating the metal with a torch and then layers of color and wax were applied more than a decade ago. Now, every couple years the old wax has to be removed and a new layer reapplied to keep the sculptures looking fresh, Kaping said.

The work can be hazardous. Wright was working on the underside of the statue when she stood up too fast and caught a hoof in the back of the head.

“It happens,” Kaping said while Wright rubbed her noggin and made a squinky face.

Despite the goose egg, the two continued until dark and planned to finish the rest of the work within a week. While Perkins leant a hand, outdoor sculpture conservation is a specialty requiring experts to be brought in, she said. Perkins specializes in objects conservation and is the director of the center’s lab.

She’s also famous: Perkins gets clubbed over the head by a Chinese sculpture in Craig Johnson’s most recent addition to the Longmire series. 

“I’ve had friends call to see if I am OK,” Perkins said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, the bronze sculptures at the Center of the West continue to increase in number “thanks to our generous donors,” she said.

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