An urgent case in Badhoevedorp
When we got there it turned out that it was not for nothing. What I thought I'd seen in the pictures turned out to be correct: it was their anchorings. Due to corrosion in the iron pins on which the statues were placed, they were cracked and three of the four sculptures stood shaky on their remaining shards, waiting for another storm to be their last. I was a bit shocked by the dangerous situation, for the statues were placed directly above the entrances!
I soon discovered that these were depicitions of the Four Seasons, probably made in the 1950's. Unfortunately I have not been able to find out who made them, but clearly it had been a classically trained sculptor. For a moment I thought they had been cast in sand cement, because the material was so coarse and crumbly. But everywhere, especially at the rear, the characteristic traces of tooth chisels were to be found, and of the pointed chisel and flat chisel. So it definitely was carved out of natural stone, a greenish gray sandstone. But not of the best quality. This porosity had contributed to the anchors rusting.
The expansive power of rusting iron
Iron expands when it rusts. It can then grow up to 7 times as thick and slowly crush each type of stone. It's the same process as with concrete degradation: moisture penetrates into the base matter and corrodes the iron parts, that then expand and cause the stone to shatter. The moisture had penetrated to the core of the statues through the open sandstone. The iron pins had started to rust, although these were actually not even glued to the statues. The statues had only been slid over them and then placed on a layer of cement mortar. Yet three of the four sculptures were so cracked that they only rested on the last shards.
Restoration and impregnation
In September we drove to Badhoevedorp and disassembled the statues. Due to these pressing times, they have been left in storage for a while, until I could find the time to restore them. The figurines of the Four Seasons have been repaired with epoxy glue and restoration mortar. The new stainless steel anchorage is also glued in with epoxy mortar.
Then I treated the figurines with a transparent hydrophobicizing agent, to repel algae and protect them from frost penetration and to delay weathering. By applying many layers of it, this liquid has saturated deep into the stone. Water will now bead more off the stone than penetrate it, while any residual moisture present can still evaporate, because it is breathable. A gore-tex jacket for stone statues, so to speak.
One reason for this anti-moisture treatment is that I found traces of cleaning with a high pressure cleaner, which has not done the Four Seasons any good. That must have been done against moss buildup- and to prevent algae growth, but it is not too good for the stone, certainly not with an already somewhat fragile sandstone. Small particles from the surface of the sculpture will detach, and moisture will penetrate ever deeper into weak spots. Clay inclusions are also rinsed clean as a result, causing the vulnerable areas to become bigger and bigger and details to blur. One could consider impregnating the figurines with acrylic resin or else with a silica-forming solution, that can strengthen the stone. But for the moment, the treatment I have given them now should keep the figurines good for decades.
Sandstone is fragile?
Often people also seem to react very strongly to the word 'sandstone’ when they hear that a sculpture has been made out of it. Maybe they think it's just a collection of loose grains or something, but lay people usually think that sandstone is a super-fast degrading stone. But the opposite is true. Statues of Bentheimer sandstone, for example, can stay sharp over 300 years in all weathers. Unless there are many fish-eating seagulls defecating on it, that is, as with the sandstone falcon from Franeker. In the Badhoevedorp case, the vulnerability was mainly due to the lesser quality of the blocks of stone. In other cases it is mainly calcareous sandstone and sandy limestone that causes problems.
One percent regulation
The figurines of the Four Seasons were reinstalled last week. The hardest thing about this work was actually just drilling out the old anchorage, which was a time consuming job. But the installation itself was actually quite easy.
The residents were noticeably happy that their sculptures had returned, and rightly so, because they define the entrance and the facades against which they stand. I also like their style myself, and I think it's a shame we don't do this anymore, placing sculpture onto buildings. When I see how much appreciation there is for them, it is actually surprising: they have a clear function and add beauty and character to the built environment. That was also the reason that there was a one percent arrangement since the 1950s which was intended for works of art: 1 percent of the construction cost of public buildings above a certain budget had to be spent on sculptures or wall reliefs or ceramics or glass art.
Beauty made secondary to profit
But nowadays we all think it's a waste of money and people tend to build huge houses on a postage tamp. Property has greater interests than the beauty of our living environment.
I expect that there will certainly be another period of change one day. After all, things like this always happen in a wave motion. But it still amazes me that beauty is sacrificed for profit. Whereas a beautiful environment requires less maintenance than an ugly one, because people have more affinity with it and take care of it better. Junk attracts junk, and ugly buildings are also quickly demolished and replaced by more contemporary ones. Valued buildings do not always escape this fate, but it seems they stand a better chance.
A turnaround is not yet ruled out
Still, every now and then something nice in the sculptural way happens to buildings. Okay, unfortunately many architects seem to think that the craft is dead and unaffordable, and something then gets designed and executed on the computer. But when you see what happened in Haarlem with the facade reliefs of the old bus and tramway terrain, then you can get a taste how sculpture can still find its way back to the neighborhood.
I think a revival is still possible. As far as I'm concerned, it could all be a little less with the grand aspirations. I prefer to see something more small-scale, intimate work that evokes recognition, perhaps also a bit more falling under the heading of 'applied art’ than imposing works that actually mainly strive after an effect. That would probably be a professional deviation, this affinity with hidden sculptures and reliefs. But I'm curious if more people think that way. I am also curious about the themes we would propose now, or whether we would design those Four Seasons very differently today. I myself at least have plenty of ideas!