Fargo company marketing product to protect bronze

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Henrik Arnold Wergeland is not looking good. His tone is dull orange, in some spots black. His figure has lost its definition. The ripples that were once visible from afar are gone.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Henrik Arnold Wergeland is not looking good. His tone is dull orange, in some spots black. His figure has lost its definition. The ripples that were once visible from afar are gone.

"This poor guy. He's in pretty bad shape," Holly Anderson Battocchi said, gazing at the early 1900s statute by Norway's Gustav Vigeland, located in Fargo's Island Park.

In an effort to prevent bronze sculptures from breaking down like Henrick Arnold Wergeland, Battocchi and her husband, a noted researcher in protective coatings at North Dakota State University, are marketing a product developed in an NDSU laboratory. It was designed to allow the original patina, or sheen, of the bronze to remain while protecting against salt, weather, the sun's ultraviolet rays and even vandalism.

The coating, called BronzeShield, is being tested by potential clients around the country, though it could be a few years before researchers know how well it works, an independent expert said.

Once used on a sculpture, BronzeShield is expected to protect against damage for at least five years, which could be advantageous because bronze art is generally cleaned every five years, said Robert Lodge, a coatings specialist and museum preservation consultant.


Lodge, who isn't affiliated with NDSU or the Battocchis' business, said there's probably an opening in the market. Other protective coatings are either coming off the market or require toxic materials to remove during cleanings.

"People will try it and it will get five years of real-time exposure, so we'll see," said Lodge, of McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory in Oberlin, Ohio. "It's a slow development."

Battocchi's husband, Dante, came to Fargo a decade ago from Italy to study in NDSU's coatings and polymers department, where scientists have been recognized for their work on paint to keep barnacles, algae and other organisms from sticking to Navy ships.

Lodge said Dante Battocchi is "an esteemed scientist" in the coatings field.

The couple said they're looking forward to their new venture of working with monuments, statutes, jewelry and other bronze art.

"We really like the fact we can go and talk with artists, instead of being in the shipyard," Dante Battocchi said. His wife, president of their company, added: "It's all about stories. Nobody makes a monument unless there's a story about it."

The coatings for bronze have for decades been composed of acrylic resin and wax. But the solvents that were used to remove those coatings are now barred by environmental regulations that limit the amount of so-called volatile organic compounds that can be released into the atmosphere, Lodge said.

And a petroleum-based wax made from Venezuela crude that many conservators were using is coming off the market, he said.


"Everybody is excited there is a product specific for the bronze," Dante Battocchi said. "What they are using right now are adopted products from other fields."

Current methods of refurbishing bronze, such as sandblasting or wire brushing, can be abrasive, time-consuming and expensive. It also makes it tricky to restore the artwork to its original form. A federal law requires all public art to be maintained in the way intended by the artist.

The Battocchis hope such refurbishing could be avoided with BronzeShield, which was licensed from NDSU to the couple's company, Elinor Specialty Coatings. Dale Zetocha, executive director of the NDSU Research Foundation, called the agreement "a great opportunity to commercialize this research."

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