|Chalkware Cleaning & Repair|
Chalkware Cleaning & Repair
Many of the older religious statues are made of a material called chalkware. It's similar to plaster. Solid chalkware statues are relatively heavy for their size and they're easily chipped or broken. Many larger statues and shrines that look on the surface like chalkware actually have a hollow metal base onto which the chalkware is applied. These statues are also easily chipped, but less subject to breaking. Even solid chalkware statues often have metal reinforcing rods that run up the center.
To the left is an example of an older chalkware figure with typical damage. The nose is broken and the paint is chipped or scuffed in several places. This example is relatively clean, but many older statues and shrines are coated with thick layers of soot, grime, and nicotine. (When you find an older statue with an allover yellow or amber cast, you can be relatively certain it was exposed to many years of a smoke-filled environment, which was a typical environment until recently.)
You'll find both painted and unpainted chalkware statues and shrines. The general methods for cleaning them are the same. The operative words are gently and slowly.
Chalkware dissolves in water so never clean chalkware by soaking it, running water over it, or saturating it with a spray cleaner. You will end up with mush. You may not be able to remove all the dirt from a chalkware figure. That's ok. Most collectors accept and appreciate this sign of age--and many collectors choose not to clean chalkware at all. If you do want to clean a chalkware figure:
Chalkware repairs fall into two categories: paint and patch. If your chalkware statue is scuffed or has only minor chips or flakes, you can hide its flaws with touch up paint. If your chalkware statue has large chunks missing or a broken nose (the most commonly damaged area), you can patch or sculpt with a repair mixture.
The suggestions offered below are homebrew techniques and materials found by trial-and-error. The quality and durability of your results will depend on your skills and experience as well as the extent and location of the damage. Any repaired statue is likely to re-break at the point of the repair if it's rough-handled.
Chalkware Paint Repairs and Touch-Ups
DecoArt offers a wide range of paint colors in its Americana series. These are water-based acrylic paints that dry to a matte finish and provide a good match for older chalkware. The paints come in 2 oz bottles with flip-tops.
Chalkware Repairs and Patches
When you need to make extensive repairs to broken or chipped chalkware, proceed slowly and in stages. Chalkware is very porous and absorbent, so it needs time to dry thoroughly.