This lecture is part of the Divine Disorder Conference held February 24-26, 2015.
“Pasaquan, the Journey Continues” by Peter Schoenmann and Shane Winter
Shane Winter: Terry asked me to do a presentation for you guys here today basically about what’s going on at Pasaquan. Sorry. Basically just going to tell you what’s going on at Pasaquan and just give you a few shots of what’s going on. Pasaquan is kind of different for us. We were working actually with three different crews of people; we have Peter’s crew at Parma and Tim’s crew working on the house. Here’s just a picture of us all before we knew what we were in for. This is just kind of a brief site map, shows you just how many areas that we’re going to be finishing up on and working on. This picture right here was my first introduction to what kind of problems we were going to be facing here. I think it stems from the fact that a lot of people helped Eddie create the site but there are a lot of different formulations in the mortar and the cement that were used. Some of them are not as stable as others. There’s a lot of leaching of Lime coming out of the pieces. Our first introduction was these whole areas that were kind of like icicle areas; basically it’s what you would call a stalagmite or stalactite. It’s the same kind of idea.
This was our first indication that pretty much a lot of what we were going to be working with is not very stable. Terry already showed that. This is another kind of just showing you what we were in for. Our first thought process … that’s a bad picture … was we were going to clean things off and see exactly what we were in store for. That involved, the first few weeks, pressure washing where we could, chemical cleaning for other areas because a lot of the structures … basically cement or brick structure … where he’s come back over and put a very thin layer of concrete. Some areas are stable enough to pressure wash but a lot of areas aren’t; you would just sheer them right off. They’re not really mechanically bonded well. You had to do mechanical cleaning and chemical cleaning. At that point, we were able to actually remove some pieces that were very loose. You can see here we’re taking them off and numbering areas where they go. You can kind of get an idea of how many pieces. Some of the sections we were into the hundred, hundred and fifty category for each pillar; just pieces that we were finding.
The next thing we started doing was digging trenches around everything. Due to the number of cracks and the amount of settling we kind of had a feeling, and unfortunately was confirmed, that a lot of the structure was not sitting on stable bases or foundations. The other reason we dug, we were able to find an awful lot of the missing pieces from that skim coat when we were digging. We wound up picking those pieces out of the dirt, sifting through the dirt, and trying to get all these pieces almost like an archaeological dig, and then try to put it back together in these huge puzzles. It’s just kind of showing work. The other thing we found was the site has changed a lot over the years, and one of the things you can see here is just a little medallion; these were all buried underground and under some of the pieces these actually built other pieces over the top of them. That all had to be documented and figure out what precisely are we going to do with these things. We’ve got original artwork underneath the artwork that we’re aiming to preserve. The other thing we noticed right away that is typical of these sites and is a problem for this site especially, was … I’m showing a picture of this, you can see the cracks … that tree.
We have a lot of problems with trees and planting and growth at a lot of these sites. People plant trees, they plant plants, everything too close. It looks nice and beautiful but unfortunately it’s stuff that’s not really going to be conducive to maintaining the site. In this case, that tree actually had to be removed. It is part of the site so what do you do? We talked with some of the local arbor societies and we’re going to be replacing the trees, I believe. They’re going to be helping us out with other varieties of oak trees that have smaller root clusters and maybe actually moving them back a little; try to maintain the look of the site but at the same time we need to consider what’s going to happen in the future in maintaining these sites. We can’t have trees that are so close to the walls. As you can see, they really start to tear things apart. A lot of the walls at this site have suffered from that. Here’s one … that’s actually about an inch worth of space that these long walls have been moved out of alignment. Before we can do a lot of our work we have to stabilize them. We came up with the idea that we’d use stainless steel metal plates on the top.
We were lucky, in this case, the top of these walls is covered with tar and metal, so we can bury these plates so you can’t see them. This is kind of showing you how we start to align the walls and put all these stainless steel plates in to get everything so it lines up. At that point we can actually start fixing the skins of things. In some cases, the walls are so out-of-joint and out-of-whack and falling over in some cases we needed to figure out ways to pull them back together before we could even tie them together. You wind up with these huge contraptions of straps and slowly pulling things; you can’t pull everything all at once, you have to pull everything very slowly over time. This kind of shows you we were able to drill through these bricks. A lot of these … this is why I was talking about that thin coat that just comes right off when you’re looking at it wrong. This shows you from the other side how we’re pulling on 13 different sections. These are our local help having fun. This is another wall that kind of just shows you what it’s looking like when you first start.
It’s a mess. There’s usually tons of biological growth. In this case, this wall also has repairs that have to be removed; original art was covered over by well-meaning people that have tried to maintain the site. It’s something that we’re going to have to get rid of. You have to be fair. If they hadn’t had done that the wall might not actually be there. You can’t be too upset with someone just trying to help, you know? This is more of what it’s looking like when it’s clean. You’ll see there’s lots of areas that we’re dealing with. Right here is another common problem that we’re dealing with; the bricks in the walls are completely deteriorating. They all have to be coated or filled. We try to not be that invasive and usually we try to use some consolident and something like a methyl-ethal ketone solvent that can get into things and then replace the interiors with some kind of consolident, usually a plastic. This is just showing the work we’re doing. I think you’ve seen this picture. What happens next, is one of the problems also these walls have is they’re solid walls with no expansion joints.
We can repair the entire thing as a completely solid wall, but we’re going to run into problems again. Here we’re using some of the existing stress cracks and we’re filling them with a polyurethane caulking that we kind of have a mixture that we mix with sand and put that in. We try to be very minimal about that but we want to make an expansion joint. We don’t want to create an area that’s just going to crack again and then have to be repaired. At that point, once we get the walls stabilized, coated, and ready to go, we hand them over to the Parma people and they work their magic. You can kind of see some. Would you like to talk now? Sorry, I was kind of nervous. I know it comes as a surprise to people who know me but I actually don’t like to talk.
Jason Church: All right. We’re going to turn it over to Peter now.
Peter Schoenmann: First I have to do this. Okay, let’s see if I can get this right.
Eddie Owens Martin: Hello there all you people.
Peter Schoenmann: Hello there all you people. I’m Peter Schoenmann and I’m a painting conservator … in front of the mic … at Parma Conservation. Here I’m annihilating ions for a group of eighth graders. We usually work on easel paintings such as this. My wife, Elizabeth Kendall worked in Italy for 16 years. That’s why we’re called “Parma” because she lived there. Her expertise is in old master paintings. We thought we worked on a lot of large things like murals. This is a mural from Chicago public schools. It was by Ralph Henrickson, painted during the WPA. For the postal service we’ve conserved well over 200 treasury section murals across the country, but nothing really prepared us for this. Six acres of psychedelically painted outdoor sculpture. Nearly 20,000 square feet of surface area. Of course you’ve seen what’s happened. Eddie was ever maintaining his creations. Even as he created new ones. When he died in 1986, people just couldn’t keep up. Here’s more biological growth on the exposed concrete. You’ve seen this one, again this is the stalactite Lime. Concrete is very, very permeable which is a huge problem for the paint and concrete alike. Some areas were so weather-beaten that there wasn’t anything at all except for some lichen or moss growing on it.
Peter Schoenmann: … somehow, some help. Yes. That was his plea in 1986. I wish he could see what’s going on now. This is John Salhus, he’s another painting conservator at Parma. He’s an artist in his own right. I think Eddie would probably think that he was a Pasaqoian from the future who had come to answer his call. I think he feels the same. Another thing that’s special about John, I’ve known him for 25 years. We went to college together and we also worked in a coatings research lab in Saint Paul, Minnesota, color matching vinyl plastisol; it’s the stuff that makes tool grips and hog flooring, mud flaps, you name it, it can be made to any shore, any hardness or softness. We worked for this guy. He was an oldchemist, old man Loss. His claim to fame was … anyone recognize this? Creepy Crawlers. Actually, he didn’t invent the Creepy Crawlers, but he sold the goop to Mattel that supplied all the Creepy Crawler kits. That’s a little background. Back to the future, here we are. It seems like we were a little bit destined to work on this project. We set up our color lab in July at the site at the guest house.
For pigment analysis we were really fortunate because we found boxes and boxes and boxes of colorants. These are pure pigments ground in linseed oil that you used to be able to buy at a general store. They’re not intended to be used as paint on their own, but you use them to tint a base. We found some of the bases like this; there was a big can of pure linseed oil. We found some alkyd resin and some other enamels. In the heat of July, we’re outside in a tent and we’re making swatches. That’s Dan Smith from the Kohler Foundation. He retrieved a painting from the house that needs help, also. It’s like, completely missing. We laid out the color and they had names like, “American vermilion,” “chrome yellow,” “chrome orange,” “chrome deep,” “flake white.” These are all lead chromate; highly toxic and long ago banned by the EPA. The one thing about these chromate pigments, even though in some cases they were under-bound because we suspect he was digging right out of those pigment dispersions and using that. There’s a video where I wanted to find him saying, “pure color” because that’s what he loved. The lead chromate, you know, the high metal’s pigments, actually held up better than any other of the pigments as you can see here. You can still see the yellow.
Since it’s outdoor and we know that paints like the alkyd resin, like the linseed oil, as they oxidize they become more brittle. That was part of the problem. We knew that we needed a paint that was going to be permeable. Permeability was a huge factor. We needed a paint that was going to be compatible with the objects conservators’ consolidant, which is ethyl silicate basically. We called that manufacturer, and low-and-behold, they had a product. They didn’t make it very often but it was compatible and it had a perm rating of 80. We happened to be working with a Sherwin Williams rep also who wanted to sell us their masonry coating. I told him, “Well, we’re looking at a perm rating of 80,” and he’s like, “What? Eighty?” He’s like, “I don’t even believe you. I know we have the best product on the market and it has a perm rating of eight. I don’t even know why you’d want a perm rating of 80 unless maybe you were going to be painting the Hoover Dam.” That’s basically what sold us on this paint base made by Prosoco. It’s a breathable masonry coating. This is just a little chart that gives you a little bit of an idea. Is this it? Oh.
The bottom line shows a water soaked log and its drying rate over the course of days. The top line shows a coating with a perm rating of like, six or seven, six and a half or seven, six point seven. The one that’s closest in line to it has a perm rating of 58. What we’re putting on the concrete now, it’s like it’s almost not there. The next problem we had was with pigment. We couldn’t use those leaded pigments because it’s toxic for us and not very available. We wanted to come as closely as possible so we were looking at cadmiums, like this cadmium sulfite yellow. Cadmium is very expensive and in the very beginning we were putting about 200 dollars worth of cadmium into every gallon of paint that we made. We finally struck a deal with Robert Gamblin who agreed to sell us, if we bought in bulk by the pound, he would give it to us at a decent discount, which we took. Here’s John Salhus in our color lab. We had to make our own pigment dispersion and we used ethyl silicate, not ethyl silicate … ethylene glycol, which is basically antifreeze. It’s a good dispersant. We were mixing that in with … the important thing was to get the consistency right. Pigment to that vehicle ratio was roughly two to one, but it varies depending on the absorption of the pigment.
We used high-sheer mixtures on site and we also have a red-devil paint shaker for when we add the pigment to the BMC coating. This was our test wall. This was the first wall that we worked on. It was quite a task because originally, Eddie’s paint had a glossy look to it. He was using enamels, he was using alkyd resin. Never mind that the extreme weather conditions, eleven days of rain, very hot sun, in a few years turned that sheen to a matte finish anyway. We wanted to come as closely as we could but in the end the product, the performance of the product, prevailed. The Pasaquan Preservation Society, once they saw what the paint looked like, they agreed to. It doesn’t reflect anything. It just looks like sheer color, just like Eddie liked. Everyone agreed that he would have approved. To aid in our color matching we used Pantone. We had interns and volunteers go around and map out every vestige of color that they could find on the concrete before they started power washing. Since the concrete forms were in-sized, it was a little like painting-by-number. Once we settled upon the color that it needed to be .. It’s not completely easy; you have to have facility, but it’s nice that it’s kind of laid out for you.
We also had tons of historic photos if we ever had a question. Keep in mind that as Eddie was maintaining the site himself and afterword volunteers would come and help maintain the site, the colors would all change. We found sections that had seven layers of different colors of paint. You kind of have to make a conservation call. For example, here’s a sample of mountains that we assumed was interior because we didn’t see anything like it on the exterior which looked like this when we got there. Once we realized that, that mountain range that I previously showed you actually represented a corner of this wall, we went ahead and made the call to reproduce it to that stage. The background color as well. Fred Fussell tells us that in the 80’s Eddie received a grant and bought a lot of black paint to just maintain the background color when it had originally been bright blue. We kind of made a compromise. We worked with the preservation society to sign off on our color choices in some cases. In some cases the mountain range stayed pretty close to what we think volunteers had repainted, simply because we didn’t have good enough references to do anything differently. This is just a final sequence of what we do. When the wall is completely repaired, consolidated by the objects’ conservators, we come in and start laying down the colors that we had cataloged, and we come up with something like this. This is just a picture of our team. We’re really fortunate to have great conservator co-workers and volunteers and local talent as Terry mentioned.
Eddie Owens Martin: Here is how it’s going to end.
Peter Schoenmann: That’s how it’s going to end. I thank you so much for your time.
St. EOM’s Pasaquan is a world renowned art environment created by the late Eddie Owens Martin beginning in the mid-1950s with work continuing until his death in 1986. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the art environment consists of six major structures, including the original farmhouse, now painted and embellished with art, an expanse of 900 linear feet of brightly painted masonry walls, totems, walkways, temples and a pagoda. Author Tom Patterson, who has chronicled the Pasaquan art site, describes Pasaquan as “one of the most remarkable folk art environments in America”. Kohler Foundation took on the monumental task of preserving Pasaquan in 2014; plans are for it to be gifted to Columbus State University upon completion in 2015. Conservation experts from International Artifacts, Houston, and Parma Conservation, Chicago, are leading the project.
Pasaquan is a leviathan. It is the largest preservation project ever taken on by Kohler Foundation and the team of objects and painting conservators must work in tandem to accomplish the stabilization and preservation of acres of painted surfaces, many with structural issues. Immediate challenges have included: replicating historic pigments long ago banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, designing a paint that is compatible with the concrete yet able to withstand the punishing light, heat and relative humidity of southern Georgia, failing foundations and structures, realignment of walls, and reassembling wall faces from piles of fragments strewn about the sites
Conservators will discuss their coordinated approach to stabilize and treat the art, what material analysis has been necessary, and what the expected results will be.
Presenters: Peter Schoenmann, Co-Director and Sr. Painting Conservator, Parma Conservation, Chicago and Shane Winter, Conservator and Principal, International Artifacts, Houston.
Peter Schoenmann has been a painting conservator in private practice for 17 years. He holds a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and apprenticed and trained under conservators Barry R. Bauman, Richard Wolbers, Christiana Cunningham-Adams, Stefano Scarpelli, and most importantly his wife and partner at Parma Conservation, Elizabeth Kendall. Prior to conservation, Peter worked in the plastisol coatings industry as a color-matcher, specializing in pigment formulation for industrial inks and coatings.
Shane Winter has been an objects conservator for 14 years. He received a BA Degree in History and Anthropology from Ithaca College before receiving an MS in Nautical Archaeology. He trained under conservators Lynn Harrington at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana State Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Ebenezer Kotei at the Hagley Museum; and Julie Baker. Working with business partner Ben Caguioa at International Artifacts, he has worked with the Kohler Foundations to restore several of their larger art environments.