Ethnographic Art for the Discerning Collector!

Caring for Wood Sculptures

Collecting art from various peoples across the world is a fascinating hobby. Wooden sculptures come from a wide variety of different tribes and civilizations, and you can find many interesting pieces right here at Spectrum Arts. But if you’re looking to purchase Native American, New Guinean, or African sculptures, you need to be careful with how you regularly clean your precious artwork. While we’ll be focusing on cleaning African tribal sculptures, these tips work well for any sculpture or traditional artwork made from wood.

The first step to cleaning your African sculpture properly is to carefully remove the dust that’s accumulated on it. Spraying an industrial cleaner may damage the wood that was used to carve your sculpture and maltreatment of your wooden statue could destroy it outright.  Instead of commercial cleaning agents, use a dry cloth to wipe the dust off of the statue.

Next, you can put a wood safe soap – not a generic soap – into a bucket of water. Then soak up the soapy water with your cloth and you can then carefully and gently clean the statue with the damp cloth. Make sure you remove all of the dirt and grime that’s accumulated on your wooden statue.

Now, take a second dry cloth and soak it in tap water. Use this cloth to clean the statue and remove any of the soap that remains on the artwork. Finally, use a dry towel to remove as much water as you can and place the statue in an area with good ventilation. This will make sure that any excess water will dry quickly. Remember to never allow soap, water, or any combination of the two to linger on your African sculptures because it can cause serious damage.

If you have any questions, or you’re not sure how to treat your wooden statues, consult an art conservationist or restoration artist. Remember these tips and you’ll keep your wooden sculptures clean and display-worthy for many years to come.Image

Comments on: "Caring for Wood Sculptures" (2)

  1. lana whitney said:

    I have a few 40 year old wooden religious statues from the Phillipines which I dust from time to time. However, they look very dry and one that might have been slightly painted is flaking. Should I use oil to clean them or will I damage them. They have lived in many different environments from Asia and for the past 30 years in Australia. I’d like to show them a bit of love. Thanks for any advice you have. Lana Whitney

    • Hi! One small thing you can do is put an open container with water near the item and keep the pieces away from any heat (drying) sources. I would hold off using any oil or similar polish until you speak to an expert in conservation. I would consult the conservator of your local museum for specific fixes as there are many factors involved in preservation (type of wood, type of paint, various finishes, etc.), and only an expert in conservation is qualified to do any restoration. I hope this helps a bit.

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