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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.99

Restoration of John Skeaping statues

Recently Houghtons of York completed the restoration of three statues – each over six feet tall and carved by John Skeaping, the husband to Barbra Hepworth for six years and well-renowned carver who is best known for his work in stone and equestrian pieces.

They were the artist’s last large scale commission and were carved from Nigerian Opepe for Kings College Cambridge – below left is a historic photo of them stood in place.

The statues are of Christ, St Nicholas and The Virgin Mary. Each weighs approximately half a tonne and they are carved taking full account of English medieval carving traditions – differing from Skeaping’s usual style. The timber for the statues was shipped from Nigeria to his studio at the Royal College of Art.

When Houghtons arrived to collect the statues they found that they were being stored in a dilapidated barn which had been planned for demolition a few years earlier. The statues were looking a little worse for wear having suffered significant exposure and temperature fluctuations. Large cracks had formed, with some parts beginning to fall off the main body, and a substantial quantity of surface dust/debris had built up.

The company carefully removed them from the barn where they had been stored for 38 years and transported them back to their workshop where the damage was reviewed and appropriate repairs decided upon.

Initially, all loose elements and timbers that had moved significantly were removed. The glue joints were cleaned and reformed, with hidden bolts being introduced to increase the joint strength and nip the misaligned components together.

Once reassembled, they began dealing with the more significant damage which had occurred. They then began to fill the remaining smaller cracks which had formed by gluing slivers of timber into the cracks and tooling these in to blend with the adjoining timbers.

Having been in storage for so long much of the original finish had been lost, so clear natural oils were used to nourish and revive the timber giving the statues a new lease of life. All of those involved in their restoration are incredibly proud of the final results.

The statues were moved to their new home in Castleford Parish Church and brackets manufactured to secure them firmly upright – considering their size they were surprisingly unstable!

For further information visit www.houghtonsofyork.co.uk