It’s a rare treat to find something you already own and enjoy it like new. A gift of that sort recently came to the museum, when a discovery made in a storage room resulted in a magnificent addition to Rienzi’s sculpture collection.
A cast iron sculpture of a winged fairy and cherub shows the pair delicately perched on a circular mount, holding a tendril of flowers between them. Part of Rienzi’s original landscape design, the life-size sculpture was purchased for Rienzi by Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III sometime in the 1960s, and for many years alighted in the bulb garden at the front of their home. But by 1996, when Rienzi became part of the MFAH, the sculpture was in very poor condition. Exposure to the elements had caused serious corrosion and staining, and “Tinker Bell”—as it affectionately became known—was removed to a museum storage facility.
Museum storage can be a lonely place, even for a benevolent fairy. The sculpture remained there largely forgotten, until a diligent museum registrar inquired as to its state (credit: David Aylsworth, registrar to the stars). In disrepair, and with no known maker or date, the piece was not an “accessioned” object—that is, not an official part of the MFAH collection. The question was posed: could the sculpture be revived and formally made part of the collection, or was it fated to remain in obscurity?
The museum’s conservation department was asked to examine the piece, and from there Tinker Bell’s journey took a remarkable turn. In what was a loving but laborious process, Conservation staff Jane Gillies and Ingrid Seyb took on the work of restoring the sculpture. Through the layers of rust they discovered a maker’s mark—she had a history and a story to tell, and most importantly, she had a name: La Fée aux fleurs, The Flower Fairy.
I will turn to Jane Gillies, objects and sculpture conservator at the MFAH, to tell the tale of the reconstruction, the first phase of La Fée’s journey back to Rienzi . . .