The reconstruction of a shattered plaster cast

Conservation volunteer Christian Kile talks about the reconstruction of a shattered museum cast.

The shattered cast

Christian working on the cast

During my time as a volunteer in the conservation department at Sir John Soane’s Museum I have been lucky enough to take part in helping to conserve a wide variety of objects including frames and plaster casts.  This post is about a shattered plaster cast that I was given the opportunity to re-construct.

The plaster cast, the head of a goat from the angle of an altar (M812), had fallen from high on a wall in the museum one night. It was discovered by a surprised warder the next morning, lying broken into many pieces on the floor. It seems that the fixing on the cast had failed.

The only image of the cast before it was broken was a grainy, black and white partial photo copy so it was no easy task to set about re-constructing it! The first and most time consuming task was to arrange all the loose fragments into their intended positions.  This was harder than you might expect as representing the corner of an altar the cast was not a flat relief, but right-angled, and the pieces ranged from large through to very small – presenting a complex three-dimensional puzzle.

Through-out the treatment I placed the cast, which stands 35cm high and 21.5cm wide, on Plastazote, a stiff foam, to help support the pieces. After numerous dry runs, to identify the best order to re-assemble the pieces, I began the process of re-construction. This was complicated as there was a specific order that the fragments needed to be fixed in order for a seamless, non-stepped finish to be achieved.  Due to concerns about specific weight-bearing areas the decision was also made to insert small stainless steel doweling rods at certain points within the cast to increase its strength.  Once I had fixed the larger pieces together I was able to adhere the remaining tiny fragments into their correct place by matching the tone of each one with the resolved pieces.

The cast during re-construction

The cast after conservation

Following the re-attachment of all the loose fragments I filled any small holes and hairline cracks with Flugger, an acrylic filler, and toned the fills with acrylic paint so they matched the surrounding areas.  Finally, as the damage incurred to the cast’s proper left hand side was considerable, a section of muslin was attached to the verso (the cast’s back) to give additional support.

Conserving ‘the goat’ is a project that I returned to many times over a two month period. Re-making the cast into a cohesive whole from the pile of fragile and jumbled pieces has been a truly satisfying and absorbing experience. Once a new fixing has been devised the cast, now in a fit state, can be returned to its high walled splendour

Christian Kile, September 2014

Posted on 04 September 2014 in Conservation Matters
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