WallWalkers’ rope access services were recently called upon by London’s own Royal Academy of Arts, to complete one of our more complex and out of the box challenges in recent times.
A bit of history – The Royal Academy of Arts was founded by George III in 1768. The 34 founding Members were a group of well-known artists and architects, including Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir William Chambers, and their aim was to raise the profile of British art and architecture. Its home since 1867 has been Burlington House, an impressive, listed building in Piccadilly.
The aim of this recent project was to carefully and meticulously dust and vacuum the priceless sculptures and statues that teeter on the edge of a 50 foot vertical drop, whilst vacuuming the walls of the void and then changing the light bulbs flush with the ceiling above.
What’s more, the team of three would need to work through the night to complete the task at hand, as the public still had access to the art gallery during daylight hours. This meant that as the historic building closed down, the team rose up and remained on our toes from 8pm to 4am.
The accumulation of dust from constant public activity greatly diminishes the detail, colour and visual aesthetic of the works on display. Gold’s become grey, hard materials become plush and emotive details are lost.
This factor, coupled with the inaccessible location for mobile platforms and the obtrusiveness (and not to mention extortionate expense) of scaffolding meant that a rope system was the most feasible access method.
Cleaning the sculptures was a studious task, using professional cleaning equipment provided by the Royal Academy of Arts to ensure the surfaces were preserved in their current impeccable state.
The team gently brushed every surface, line and contour over each sculpture, while a professional photographer took photos and video for a documentary on the maintenance of the historic gallery.
With the cleaning aspect complete, we then focused on the bulbs that shone down on the sculptures. Many had blown and it was decided that carrying out both aspects would ensure the most efficient use of time.
But that doesn’t mean it was a walk in the park. For example, how does one plan suspend themselves in mid air with nothing to clip to above, below or beside them? And bare in mind we are now making our way to the ceiling, so the 50 foot drop has suddenly become a not-so-comforting 60!
Well, as with many of WallWalkers’ conservation projects, there was a lot of head scratching and concept development far in advance. The use of ladders, pulleys, locking gears, straps and beam clamps meant they hit the ground running with bulbs in hand and flowed through the access system’s creation with ease. Before the team knew it, all bulbs had been replaced with new and the whole place shined like a palace.
As a bonus extra, the access system also allowed them to wipe clean the ceiling and walls which had previously been impossible for them or anybody else to do themselves. After all, I can hardly imagine an elderly cleaning lady pole-vaulting her way across the void with a wet rag in hand like some Leslie Nielsen sketch!
With the white surfaces now dazzling, the lights all beaming brightly and the sculptures as pronounced and detailed as artists had originally visualised, it was time to pack up and head home. Just in time for breakfast.
It proved to be a very intricate project, with tough physical and mental work which ultimately garnered excellent results.
Was the client happy? Well, we’ve since been contracted to carry out further cleaning works and high level bulb replacement at the gallery, so we’ll be taking this as a sign of great satisfaction.