How to Restore Statues

Updated on October 23, 2019
Anne Carr profile image

Anne is a writer and teacher who recently restored a decorative statue for a friend.

The before and after photos of a statue restoration.
The before and after photos of a statue restoration.

The Art of Restoration

Do you have an old garden statue or a statue in your home that is old and maybe disintegrated with years of use? Statues, especially ones that are placed outside in the elements, can get weathered and worn over time, and it seems like a difficult task to find a way to restore them and make them look like new again.

I recently took it upon myself to restore a statue for a friend. I have had no experience doing this kind of project before, but using some ideas I had come up with on my own, I was able to restore the piece and have it looking like new again. Here, I will give you a few tips on how to properly restore a decorative statue.

Step 1: Observe and Take Photos

Before getting started on your project, it is a good idea to observe it and take photos so you know the kind of condition it is in already. This will help to identify any problem areas and things that you see that need to be fixed.

In my case, the statue was severely disintegrated and worn from the elements, so I knew I would need to find something to fill in the holes that I found on the statue. In addition, I had some pieces of the statue that were broken off, so I also knew there would be a little work to do with re-assembling some pieces. This is why it is so crucial to really look at the statue first and determine what needs to be done. You will have a plan of action and be able to plot out the proper steps as to how to restore it properly.

Step 2: Clean the Statue

The first thing you want to do is clean it a little bit so you have a blank slate to start from. It is important and crucial that you don't use any harmful chemicals or cleaning products on the statue because it could harm the material and depending on what your statue is made out of, it could completely ruin it.

I used a damp cloth with water to clean my statue. There was some dirt and leaves that had become caught in some of the crevices, so I gently wiped the statue with a wet cloth to get rid of the layers of dirt and leaves. If your statue is very dirty, it might take you a few times to get it to where you want it to be. Please note that it does not have to be completely clean, just clean enough for you to have a smooth surface to work with as you make changes and repairs.

The difference between an area with no plaster and an area that has been filled in with plaster on a statue.
The difference between an area with no plaster and an area that has been filled in with plaster on a statue.

Step 3: Add Plaster

I found in my case specifically, because it was so damaged and there were so many holes in it due to weathering over the years, that I needed to fill in those holes. Plaster of Paris works wonders for this because it will help fill the holes and still give the statue a look of "stone". In addition, Plaster of Paris is very cheap and readily available at most craft stores.

Follow the instructions on the package specifically and begin "painting" it over the statue. I found that adding a thin layer first was the best option. I used a large paintbrush to brush on the plaster to make sure it filled in the holes and created a smooth surface for me to work with. You do NOT want to clump it on with your hands, as a lot of times, this will make the statue loose its shape and you will have bumps and other unwanted impurities on it. Take it slow and let it dry for a while before deciding if you want to add more plaster later. A little goes a long way in this case.

The first step of adding Plaster of Paris to fill in the gaps and holes on the statue.
The first step of adding Plaster of Paris to fill in the gaps and holes on the statue.

Step 4: Sand the Statue

After adding the plaster, it is important for you to spend some time smoothing out the surface, especially if you will be painting on top of the plaster, which I highly recommend. Even if you aren't going to paint colors on it and just want to paint it all white again, it is important to have a smooth surface to paint on.

I used fine grained sandpaper to lightly sand the area before painting it. Be careful in this process as well, as you do not want to sand too much and risk sanding the layer of the statue underneath. I was very light with my hands so as to create that smooth surface on top, but careful enough not to damage anything.

Step 5: Fix Broken Pieces

In my case, I had a few broken pieces that I needed to fix before painting. There was an arm that needed to be glued back on as well as some deformities in the statue that needed to be filled in and fixed. For this project, I used Loctite glue. It is safe and easy to use, and you can find it at most home improvement stores. The beauty of Loctite glue is the fact that you can use such a small amount and it will hold it together perfectly. You also don't have to wait for the glue to dry. You hold it together for about twenty seconds and it will attach tightly. No need to wait or get a clamp if you can hold it together for just twenty seconds!

In addition to gluing pieces back on, I also had a deformed cross on my statue that needed to be fixed. For this, I bought a small pack of molding clay (you can but this at any craft store). When you get the clay out, mix it with a little bit of water and mold it with your hands until it is soft and malleable. Then, shape it over the area you want to fix. I put the clay right over the top of the cross. Then, slowly and carefully remove the clay. You will need to bake it in the oven per the instructions on the package and then glue the piece on when you are finished.

Step 6: Paint

Once you have completed the gluing process, it is time to start painting. For my project, I used acrylic paint specifically useful for outdoor purposes. You can find this multi-purpose acrylic paint at any craft store. Paint to your liking. If you are planning on keeping the statue all white, consider shading the crevices with a darker color (maybe a light gray), to give the appearance of stone and make it look more natural. I found that shading really helped my statue come alive.

When you are finished painting, you will want to use an acrylic sealer spray, especially if you plan on putting the statue in a garden or outside when you are finished. This will prevent the weather from doing damage to your statue again and will preserve it for years to come.

Step 7: Admire Your Finished Product

Once you have finished, take some time to admire your work. It is amazing what we can do to restore old pieces of art, and it is so satisfying to see the hard work you have done afterwards. Make sure you take pictures so you have a before and after picture of the process. If your statue is made of a specific material, make sure you know how to properly restore it. Plaster of Paris may not work in all cases. If you are not sure, consult an expert at the craft store that might be able to assist you in this process. In general, I found my method to work pretty well. Do what you think works best for your project, and I hope these guidelines and tips helped give you some good ideas on how to restore your garden statue or decorative statue.

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    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 

      3 weeks ago from North Carolina

      Very interesting. Thank you for sharing!

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