How to Preserve Clay Sculpture

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Clay is one of the most long lasting substances known to man. When archeologists excavate a dig, pottery fragments and clay figures are usually the best preserved of all the artifacts they unearth. With some luck, a piece of pottery can literally last thousands of years. According to John Hopkins University, ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets may be dated as far back as 3400 BC. But despite its longevity, clay breaks very easily and it may even deteriorate if it is not kept under ideal conditions.

Things You'll Need

  • Shelf or pedestal
  • Sculpture
  • Cotton gloves
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier
  • Barometer
  • Museum wax
  • Cart

Select a place where you will showcase your sculpture. Your decision needs to be based on several considerations. Choose a pedestal or shelf that cannot be easily knocked over and which is to the side of common foot traffic. Pick a spot away from natural light if the sculpture is painted, as paints are fugitive.

Place museum wax on the bottom of your sculpture before you place it on its shelf or pedestal. Museum wax affixes the sculpture securely to its display in the event that it is bumped or there is some disaster such as an earthquake. It leaves no residue.

Carry the sculpture to its display, holding it securely with both hands. Place one hand on the bottom and another on the main body. Do not hold it by any fragile protrusions. If the sculpture is large, use two people to lift it onto a cart to transfer it. Have one person hold the sculpture and keep an eye out for obstacles as the other wheels the cart to the display.

Measure the humidity of the room with a barometer and adjust it by using a humidifier or dehumidifier. According to “The New Museum Registration Methods,” unglazed ceramics are best preserved with the humidity around 55%, while high-fired and glazed ceramics are hardier and can take a little more fluctuation. Ancient sculptures require a humidity between 40% to 50%. Make sure that the humidity and room temperature are unchanging.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always wear cotton gloves when handling your sculpture, particularly if it is unglazed. Oils from the hands can seep into porous clay.

References

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