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  • Writer's pictureJudy Greenfield

El Charro Rides Again

Conservation treatment of the charro, “a Mexican horseman…typically one in elaborate, traditional dress…[who participates] in charreada sports [similar to rodeo]” was both challenging and rewarding. The charro consists of a mixed media figure of a rider on a dun or buckskin horse. It dates from the last third of the 19th century and was created by La Familia Hidalgo in Mexico. The rider sits tall in the saddle with his head turned slightly to the proper left. He wears a tall, pointed hat and fancy clothing. The horse and rider are realistically rendered in fine detail. The figures of the horse and rider were modeled in light yellow wax over a wire armature, then painted. Other details include rick rack, cloth, animal pelt, leather, wood, glass, string and metal. The charro is seated on a wood dowel in front of the horse’s haunches and the assemblage is positioned on an oblong, wax-covered wood base. The horse is secured to the self-base with a dowel in the bottom of its proper left front hoof and proper right rear hoof.

It was damaged when shipped to its current owner. Not surprisingly, due to the brittleness of the wax, it had been repaired in the past. In addition to these old repairs, the horse’s ears had detached, the proper left stirrup had cracked and the proper right one broke off during treatment. There was a crack in the horse’s tail resulting in a detaching fragment. The stirrup leathers appeared to be crudely reconstructed from paper (?) and wax. Part of the saddle blanket was missing. Attempts – now failed - had been made to secure the charro to the dowel and saddle tree with a shiny yellow adhesive and hot glue may have been used to secure the pelt blanket in place. The reins had broken and been incorrectly reconfigured, no longer held in the man’s proper right hand. There were other losses, crude repairs and damages.

Fortunately the owner shared with me excerpts (in Spanish) from a book showing the charro, prior to the damage from shipping. I also researched the conservation literature for guidance on repair of wax objects. Treatment involved a multitude of interventions: cleaning, adhering, rearranging, reshaping deformed elements, replacing missing parts, attempting to reduce cloudiness in the original wax and correctly repositioning elements including the reins and the sword.

Treatment of the charro began with photographing the figures then cleaning them with aqueous solution. Old, failed adhesive and wax used for repairs were reduced or removed. An acrylic emulsion adhesive was used to adhere broken, unstable elements and reconstructions. Some reconstructions, such as the loss to the saddle blanket, were recreated from Japanese paper and wax. The reins were removed from their incorrect position, cleaned and correctly placed in the rider’s proper right hand. Synthetic wax fills – microcrystalline and paraffin – were melted to fill losses. The wooden dowel used to hold the charro in place was removed as it forced the rider to sit too far back on the horse, preventing his boots from reaching the stirrups. After repositioning, he leans slightly forward in the saddle.

The end result was successful and hopefully conformed more closely to the artist’s intent. The charro was back in the saddle again and, hopefully, safely under glass or Plexi to help protect the artwork from future damage.

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