In January 2011, Conservators Thomas Podnar and Robert Lodge were the guests of Philip Rickey, a sculptor, son of George Rickey and the executor of the artist’s estate, at the artist’s home and studios in East Chatham, New York.
The purpose of the three day visit was for the conservators to get familiar with the artist’s technical files and discuss how the information, which requires interpretation, can be made usefully available to researchers and owners of George Rickey’s sculptures.
Kinetic sculptor George Rickey passed away on July 17, 2002. The artist’s studios remain largely untouched, full of parts, tools and his machinery, and continue to be a resource for maintenance and repairs of George Rickey’s sculptures by two of the artist’s former assistants.
The visit was also the start of a knowledge transfer. In addition to the photographic and text documentation of the artist’s methods and materials, a tremendous amount of critically important information remains in the minds of living resources: the studio office personnel and former studio assistants. Of particular importance is the knowledge of fabrication methods, the artist’s intentions for the actions of particular sculptures, maintenance materials and methods, and finally, specialized repair procedures, all developed over half the artist’s lifetime.
Much of the specialized fabrication, maintenance and repair knowledge resides with two former assistants to George Rickey, Steve Day and Mark Tavares. Sculpture conservator Tom Podnar met with these experts and held discussions on technical matters during this visit and some of the artist’s fabrication methods were explained. During the visit, as well, Rickey’s drawings and plans were examined and the problems of interpreting his handwritten notes on these documents was explained. While the writing is legible, only someone who has worked with the artist would be able to interpret the intention of so many brief annotations. This will be problematic in the future for the maintenance, repair or replacement of components based on reference to these documents. The knowledge necessary to interpret these documents will also need to be passed down.
This gradual process of knowledge transfer is expected to continue to preserve the information and continue its availability.
As time permits, the plan is to continue to train our sculpture conservators Tom Podnar and Jim Gwinner in the fabrication and repair methods, and in the technology, used by the remaining assistants. Both conservators are already quite experienced in bearing selections and replacements.
The entire body of George Rickey’s business, correspondence and technical files, as well as selected sculptures, are being gifted by the George Rickey Foundation to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana where the George Rickey Archive Materials will be managed by Notre Dame’s University Archives. Separately, The George Rickey Sculpture Archive at the university is managed by the university’s Snite Museum of Art where Charles R. Loving is the director of the museum and the curator of the sculpture archive collection.
The museum published its catalog of the sculpture archive, Passages of Light and Time: The Artistic Journey of George Rickey, written by Notre Dame graduate intern Shannon Kephart, in conjunction with a recent symposium. The catalog won a book award in the American Association of Museums 2010 Publications Design Competition.
Later this year, McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc. will disassemble and move to a temporary location a monumental George Rickey sculpture in Honolulu, Hawaii. The sculpture, Two Open Rectangles Eccentric, was commissioned in 1978 by the Art-in-Architecture Program of the U.S. General Services Administration. The sculpture was sited at the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. This building will be undergoing extensive renovations causing the need to locate the sculpture elsewhere for its protection during the period of construction work. The sculpture is expected to be restored to its former position by McKay Lodge, Inc. when renovations are complete.