Our Lady of Mercy Polychrome Sculpture

The “Our Lady of Mercy” shrine is a life sized, polychrome sculpture installed within the front foyer of Mercy High School, a Catholic college preparatory school for young women in Baltimore, Maryland. Purchased and donated to the school by a group of students many years ago, the multicolored plaster and fiber sculpture has become a beloved furnishing for the campus. Numerous moves and many years of open display had left the statue in a state of disrepair. Both small and large losses in the plaster and paint finishes were evident throughout, whole components were either broken or missing and the statue had a heavy accumulation of dust and grime on all surfaces.


Given the location of statue, treatment strategies for cleaning and repairing the statue which minimize the use of solvents and were mostly odorless were a necessary governing aspect for the project. The work began by photographing the condition of the statue, and gathered together loose and broken components found with the object to set aside for pending repairs.

Cleaning was carried out by brushing away dirt and dust with soft, natural bristle brushes. Light, indirect suction from a HEPA rated vacuum was used within the area to contain contaminates. Cleaning tests were carried out to determine the solubility and stability of the pigments of the finish under wet cleaning conditions. With the exception of the reddish orange curtain behind the Madonna figure, all other colors proved stable for cleaning with a conservation grade, detergent mixture in distilled water. The detergent was applied as foam with soft natural and synthetic artist brushes and cotton swabs to work the dirt out of recesses. Detergent residues were rinsed away with distilled water. Cleaning of the curtaining was carried out with odorless mineral spirits applied by cotton swabs. Clean cotton toweling or cotton swabs were used to blot damp areas dry during the cleaning process.

Repairs started with repositioning the statue on its wooden base to center it so the foot to the Madonna no longer overhung the base. Broken components, such as the foot and throne corners, were adhered to the statue with archival grade, Jade 403 polyvinyl acetate adhesive. Repairs to the numerous losses in the finishes were performed with acrylic fill and paint media. Deep voids and large material losses were either filled with light weight vinyl fill material or lightweight Hydrocal casting plaster, which were then hand carved to replicate surface ornamentation. A cross for the top of the globe on the infant’s lap was replicated out of a sculpting epoxy to compensate for the missing element.