Conservation of a Plaster Model Horse

on Tuesday, 22 March 2022. Posted in Conservation

Hello! I have just joined the team at CMAS as an object conservator, having spent the last four years working on the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

In my first three weeks I have had some lovely objects to get stuck into; one of which is a cream painted plaster model horse with a leather and textile collar from the Mere Museum.

The model in situ in a saddlery shop

We think this was a display model for a saddlery, although the records are a bit thin on the ground. It was brought in for conservation with fractures across all four lower legs and pieces of plaster had come away from the hind right leg exposing the iron armature inside. On top of this, the paint surface was flaking in places and is rather uneven, having been touched up and repainted several times.

Both the body of the horse and the base show signs of previous damage and repair, and indeed there are records of the horse having already been conserved twice by CMAS in the last 20 years.

The model prior to conservation, the area of missing plaster is visible on the hind leg.

The similarity of damage seen, especially the repeated breaks across the legs, suggests that there are inherent weaknesses in the structure of the model.

These weaknesses are compounded when the model is lifted by its belly which, at first glance, would seem the easiest way to lift the model. Actually, what we think is happening, is the weight of the base puts a strain on the legs and the metal armature inside, causing the plaster around it to crack and break.

The first step was to deal with the current fractures in the legs, which have been consolidated with adhesive and the loose fragments were reattached. The remaining losses have been filled with an inert, lightweight putty and coloured with acrylic paint to blend with the original surface.

To prevent the damage occurring again we needed a different handling approach; to this end, an adapted packing system using the original custom box has been devised to enable the model to be handled from the base.

The view of the underside of the base of the model, the previous repair is visible running vertically through the centre, there is a second repair running horizontally across the base too.

As the base will be the main point for handling the object, we looked at how to reinforce this area without appearing to do so. To achieve this, a custom support filler has been made from epoxy modelling clay to fit the recess of the base, which also extends to the sides to help provide additional support.

Left: the model standing on a layer of the epoxy modelling clay to form the profile for the base support. Right: the model attached to the new base support; the colour of the base will be blended with the model with acrylic paint.

The model already has a bespoke box which enables it to be stored securely and luckily this box can be easily adapted to allow for the new method of handling. This will centre on a custom tray for the model to sit in, which will allow it to slide in and out of the box.

The tray and support will have finger loops and handholds, helping to lift the horse and base from the box, and reduce the chance that the model will be damaged in the future.

A special thanks to Mere Museum, Mere, for permission to feature this lovely object. If you would like conservation advice about your own documents or objects, please get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sophie Philipps, objects conservator

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