The ‘African Slave’, as it is now known, or ‘Blackamoor’, as it was known as when it was produced in the 18c was the most popular of the many lead garden sculptures produced in the period. It is a shameful, and not now fully acknowledged, open celebration of the wealth that the slave trade brought to Britain and arguably significantly funded the industrial revolution, the great financial institutions, major cities, leading dynasties and the artistic institutions of the country.
The servile pose of the figure serves as a base for a bronze sundial on a stone disk. A combination of a corroded iron armature and the weight of the stone had caused the figure to slump and the arms to become misaligned and it was necessary to realign the sculpture and provide a better armature. Access panels were cut into the lead to remove and existing core material and remains of the armature. Once that was removed, the modern white paint was chemically and steam cleaned from the surface and the figure was manipulated back into its correct position. A new armature was made from 316 stainless steel and shaped to fit the body. The access panels were welded back into position and dressed back to match the form of the surrounding area.
Lead is a very malleable material, it’s own weight being sufficient to cause distortion, so it is important that the load should be distributed and given the fullest support, or there is a risk of point loading, around which the lead will slump. To provide maximum support, expanding foam was injected into the cavity, this has the added benefit of electrochemically insulating the lead from the stainless steel armature.
Prior to the works, paint samples were taken for analysis; based on these results the figure was painted based on the original lifelike colour scheme. It is appropriate that this garden sculpture should be fully restored for Wentworth Castle, as it was Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford (second creation), who secured the virtual monopoly of the slave trade for Britain.