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  #1  
Old 07-22-2006, 06:42 PM
Gretel Gretel is offline
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cleaning plaster heads/busts

I have several plaster heads and busts made by my father. Over the years, most have become dirty. How do I safely clean them?
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  #2  
Old 07-27-2006, 07:58 PM
Daniel Daniel is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Hi Gretel,

I'm not sure what would be the best way to remove the stains from the plaster. However, if you wanted to give them a pristine plaster look and were willing to spray a coating over the pieces, you can buy a product called B-I-N White Pigmented Shellac primer/sealer made by Zinsser. It is available in a spray can, and will give the pieces the same color and sheen as plaster.

Have you tried acetone to clean away the stains?
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  #3  
Old 07-28-2006, 01:29 AM
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Merlion Merlion is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Plaster artworks without coating can get dirty very easily, and the dirt and stain cannot easily, if at all, be cleaned off as plaster is porus.

I only have limited experience coating plaster artworks. For convenience, I just use the normal acrylic spray paint. To make them look like plaster again, select the 'matt white' paint instead of 'gloss white'.
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  #4  
Old 07-28-2006, 01:57 AM
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Blake Blake is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Traditionally plaster is coated with clear shellac, (which is in fact a bit yellow). This is a type of clear glossy lacquer, which is painted on, the original chemical is organic (taken from insects I was told, true or not I donít know). Sometimes difficult to get, go to an antique furniture restorer they will know where to get it.
If the plaster is coated with this type of sealant then you can brush off the dust and wash with a damp cloth. If the plaster is untreated then high pressure air is the most inoffensive method, still you can wash with water and a soft brush then wipe with a soft cloth. Start with the air too remove what ever dirt you can then use the water as sparingly as possible as it will be absorbed into the plaster and will tend to take the dirt into the plaster with it so you may end up having to use allot of water to get it clean and this water can damage an old plaster.(Old = 20 years and over). Once you have cleaned it, coat it with shellac after which you can clean it with a damp cloth without worrying about it. You can also wax a plaster with clear shoe polish or CLEAR bees wax to seal it and this will give the plaster a wonderful off white tint.
If this is a valuable piece, monetarily or sentimentally then use the air and leave it, but you may want to seal it for future protection. If you shellac it when it is dirty you will take the dirt into the plaster and it may not look good, wax would most likely be best in this case. If you do wash it with allot of water ensure that it is very dry before you shellac it.
Hope this helps
Blake
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  #5  
Old 07-31-2006, 08:35 PM
Gretel Gretel is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Dear Daniel,
Thank you for replying to my question about cleaning plaster heads. As they are of great sentimental value, I want to be VERY careful. Sadly, I should have asked my dad (now deceased) if they were sealed and if not, how to clean them. These busts range in age from 53 y/o (me as a baby) to 10 years old (my son) and are precious to me, but the older ones are terribly dirty! Thanks again!!
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  #6  
Old 07-31-2006, 08:36 PM
Gretel Gretel is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Thank you Merlion for your help! Someone else made a very similar suggestion.
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  #7  
Old 07-31-2006, 08:39 PM
Gretel Gretel is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Dear Blake,
Thank you for taking the time to answer in such detail and with such thought. These pieces are of great sentimental value and although I would like them to be cleaner (or at least, look cleaner), I want to make sure I don't harm them. Again, thank you for your sage advice!
Gretel
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  #8  
Old 08-01-2006, 02:53 AM
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terracotta terracotta is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Hi I haven't done this but I have a thorough 1950's book titled Casting in Plaster by Victor H. Wager. P. 86 is titled Cleaning Plaster Casts and reads in full:

Quote:
A dirty cast can be easily cleaned if the correct procedure be adopted.
Mere dust can be nicked off, but when of old standing, the cast will have to be washed. Do not under any circumstances wash it as you would wash a
dish. This will send the dirt in. The only way is to totally immerse the cast,
leaving it untouched until it can absorb no further water.

When the bubbles cease to rise, leave for another ten minutes or so
and then wipe it, UNDER THE WATER, with a sponge. Do not lift the
model above the surface as it will collect again the dirt that is floatine
there.

When thoroughly sponged, collect all the dirt from the water with
blotting paper and a saucer, or allow the tap to run until all the dirt has
flowed away over the sides. Only when the surface of the water is clean,
can the cast be removed.

If the sponge is used before the cast is sufficiently saturated, the wiping
will send the dirt in, so try wiping on an unimportant part first.
I hope that helps.
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  #9  
Old 08-01-2006, 08:37 AM
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Landseer Landseer is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

The only problem with immersion on the plaster in water like that is, if the piece contains any kind of steel rods, wires, hanging hooks or armature the water will start that steel RUSTING and that could cause rust to stain it from the inside out.
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  #10  
Old 08-01-2006, 02:22 PM
anne (bxl) anne (bxl) is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

advice from a friend who restor antiques. I have successfully experienced it on non coated plaster : apply a pasta simply made from starch and water, let the dust be absorbed by the pasta. Once the mix is dry take it off and brush with a soft brush.
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  #11  
Old 08-01-2006, 06:30 PM
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manic manic is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

I do not know about heavy dirt, but stains can easily be removed with bleach, restoring a nice pristine white. I am not sure of any detrimental chemical reaction, but I have not experienced any. May I suggest making a mold of the busts first, possibly replicated them all together if they are in sorry condition. It is still the the artist's work when financial value is not of concern.
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  #12  
Old 08-02-2006, 02:06 AM
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terracotta terracotta is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Quote:
The only problem with immersion on the plaster in water like that is, if the piece contains any kind of steel rods, wires, hanging hooks or armature the water will start that steel RUSTING and that could cause rust to stain it from the inside out.
That's a good point. Instructions for making plaster casts usually say that metal reinforcements should be painted first to avoid rust staining the cast.

There's no obvious way of knowing what's inside the plaster, so the suggestion of making casts of the casts seems a good one.
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  #13  
Old 08-02-2006, 08:08 AM
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Landseer Landseer is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Quote:
Originally Posted by terracotta
That's a good point. Instructions for making plaster casts usually say that metal reinforcements should be painted first to avoid rust staining the cast.

There's no obvious way of knowing what's inside the plaster, so the suggestion of making casts of the casts seems a good one.
Paint doesn't last forever and all it takes is the slightest scratch or missed spot and rust starts there and lifts the paint. Think of paint like a thin plastic or metal boat hull, if the boat gets the slightest pinhole the water leaks in.

I like the mold idea, though it could be way more time consuming and expensive than it's worth to avoid a little staining and dirt on the originals.
Besids, the originals were made by dad's HANDS, copies may have the same design but would be modern cast.
The originals are antiques, dust them, maybe vacuum or air pressure and put them in a closed up glass curio cabinet where they will stay clean and enjoy them as antiques.
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  #14  
Old 08-02-2006, 12:15 PM
dwright dwright is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

I would make molds...other members of your family may eventually wish to have copies.
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  #15  
Old 08-20-2006, 08:39 PM
Gretel Gretel is offline
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Re: cleaning plaster heads/busts

Thank you for understanding the importance of the fact these heads/busts were made with great love by my dad's hands. If it comes down to possibly harming them in any way or keeping them as is......they will remain dirty, but loved. Thank you for your advice and sensitivity.
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