Monthly Archives: June 2016

Restoring a 19th-Century Garden Statue

With better weather also comes the time to catch up on old projects that got waylaid during winter. That includes going through the masses of antique cast iron lying around.

I admit, I have an issue buying “projects” that may or may not be expeditiously completed. Don’t judge. Perhaps it’s the same trigger that encourages me to buy books that I never read, artwork that I have no wall space for, and a creative vision for more.

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A future project discovered deep inside the smokehouse during a recent spring cleaning

I love the potential of something that could be repaired, “fixed up”, and returned to its former glory. The problem here is that not only do cast iron projects take up space, but they are ridiculously heavy to keep shuffling around. Someone once suggested that I take up painting matchboxes instead. (That person’s name shall remain omitted from this post.)

My most recent project has been a basic restoration of an antique cast-iron statue and pedestal, likely produced in France during the late nineteenth century. The woman (we really need a good name for her), draped in a Greco-Roman style, holds a torch in her left hand and has her right arm raised above her head. She was rescued at auction from a house where she had been left to rust under an overflowing gutter for many years. Her outer coat of paint had been compromised, letting water pool underneath, expediting corrosion. She was not a happy camper.

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Step 1 – Preparation

The first step was to manually remove as much of the outer shell as possible. Being attentive at this stage is important to reduce any risk of major damage or unnecessary pitting to the iron surface. This is one reason that sandblasting isn’t always the first recommendation for this type of project. (People always ask me why I don’t just sandblast the hell out of it.) Oh, and I really didn’t want to spend the fortune that it would have been to sandblast these two pieces.

I had four favorite tools for this and there wasn’t much that I couldn’t do with this combination: a stiff bristle wire brush, some fine steel wool, coarse-grit sandpaper for painted areas, and of course my trusty five-in-one tool. (Everyone should have a good five-in-one tool in their tool belt.)

Step 2 – Prime

After doing my best to clean and prepare the surface, I was able to prime the existing paint and newly exposed cast iron with a stabilizing primer. After testing a few different ones, I really liked the adherence of the Rustoleum Gray Enamel Primer.

I chose the aerosol for this stage of the project, because I wanted good coverage but with minimal pooling in some of the small grooves. There are already several coats of paint, and I didn’t want to obscure the statue’s details any further.

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Step 3 – Top Coat

For the top coat, I utilized an oil-based enamel in white to ensure the best weather protection and long-term adherence. After testing a few different finishes, the flat white was the winner, providing the best coverage and hiding small imperfections in the surface. I utilized the same process for both the pedestal and the statue with excellent results.

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I’m still dealing with a little rust bleeding through on the base of the statue where the corrosion was really bad from years of sitting in a pool of water, but I think that is at least stabilized and better protected at this point. It’s something that I can work on in more detail later.

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Step 4 – Enjoy

Standing about seven feet tall, and god only knows how many pounds, she now graces the north side of the vegetable garden thanks to the muscles of a few good men.

My friend Karen says it looks like she’s dancing – party style. I think that’s a great perspective – the more joy in the garden, the better. Maybe a little garden boogie will help the plants grow!

Bliss is an Old Homestead with a New Kitchen

The feeling of divine satisfaction settles into my bones as I sit here with my computer, writing from my new kitchen island. Cup of coffee in hand, homemade muffins in the oven, and a little music to keep me company. I can’t imagine a better morning. Oh, how I missed this. After a full year of a makeshift kitchen in an upstairs hallway with a single hot plate and microwave, I didn’t realize how much I needed something so simple to feel human again. It’s amazing what new cabinets and a little paint can do!

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The new copper countertop on the kitchen island

Over the past year, I was pushed to the outer boundary of my capacity. I have never felt so destabilized and unsettled. It is in reflection on this past year that I realize the social and interactive importance of our personal and communal spaces. For me, a kitchen is not only an important outlet for my creative expression, but it’s a space where friends and family gather to share stories and provide the collective cheer that we all so desperately need.

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The dark and dreaded hallway kitchen – it can finally be a hallway again

My nineteen year old cousin came to visit from Florida a couple of weeks ago. She was the first weekend house guest since we bought the farm and began restorations 2.5 years ago. It was a push to get everything done before she arrived, but the joy her visit brought to the house was exactly what we needed at just the right time. We spent time sharing recipes, cooking meals, telling stories about our kin folk, and just getting to know each other.

And isn’t that the beauty of these old homesteads? This has been a family home for at least 230 years. I intend to continue that tradition and provide a space that celebrates the joy of sharing good food, drink, and meaningful time with friends and loved ones. What an amazing gift that we live in a time and country where that’s even possible.

It’s going to take some recovery time after a long year of stressful renovations, but I’m loving this place more and more each day. And I’m starting to feel like my self again. It may not be all butterflies and sunshine around here, but it’s a hell of a lot better than another year cooking on a hot plate!

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The driveway is on fire with blooming tiger lilies 

Ducklings

In other news, the baby ducks have hatched! Although we lost a couple to a six-foot black snake that crept its way into the brooder pen (that’s another story), we have two cute little ducklings running around. Their favorite thing to do, besides playing in the water bowl, is to perch on mom’s back while she squeaks at the guineas running by.

Although I wish that we’d had a higher hatch rate, I learned so much going through this first cycle and look forward to another round next year. But for now, I’m looking forward to a renovation break and time to enjoy everything that has been hatching over the past year – feathered and otherwise!

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