Pieces of time: How the mosaics at Shchelkovo Bus Station are restored

December 22, 2020
Culture

The restoration of the mosaic at Shchelkovo Bus Station will soon be completed. The 1972 My Fatherland panel by artist Yury Korolyov, which used to decorate the waiting room, will now move to the façade of the renovated station building.

The Soviet mosaic facing the Moscow Ring Road will become a new regional art installation and a reference to the bus station’s historical past. Restoration experts had to solve more than one puzzle to restore the original mosaic. Mos.ru visited Tessera Studios and found out how the experts put this puzzle back together.

Guess the painting

Pieces of the mosaic lay everywhere around the studio. It was brought there piece by piece; the panel is about 90 square metres big. The work is underway. The restorers use syringes to put a reinforcing solution into the cracks in the concrete substrate. They wash the pieces of smalt – coloured glass with metal oxide – in molds filled with water.

“Today we’ll put the smalt on glue on the concrete substrate, and tomorrow we’ll treat it with an antifungal solution, tint it and then clear off the dried glue. The main thing is to make sure the pieces stick properly. It’s possible that the original pieces won’t stay together, and we’d have to begin everything again,” says restoration artist Svetlana Yesinskaya.

Masters have always designed monument panels and architectural elements to hold together forever, but at the time, nobody thought the mosaic would be moved. This is why some of the mosaic panels were damaged when dismantled because they were adhered to the wall very strongly.

“For this restoration, we are using smalt produced back then, in Soviet times, about 25 percent of the lost pieces. In Soviet times, a special technique was used to produce mosaic glass. There were two types of smalt. One was baked: the base for smalt was kneaded like dough, then a cake was molded and baked in an oven at a temperature of about 750 degrees. The result looked like a stone in a dense velvety shade as if it was covered with gouache paint. The second type was boiled smalt: the mixture was boiled on a stove, then scooped up with ladles, poured onto a metal plate and rolled flat. This type had a rich, vibrant colour, like oil paint. Today, few people remember the old formulas. We had to go to many studios in Moscow, the Moscow Region and other regions to find pieces the colours similar to old smalt. We managed to order some glass from modern smalt factories. Now, smalt production in Russia is coming back,” says project manager Alexander Nikitin.

Photo by Yevgeny Samarin, Mos.ru

Other materials were used in the panel, too, such as golden smalt: a sheet of gold leaf sandwiched between two glass plates. There are also ceramic elements with coloured glazes and modules made of Mettlach tiles.

The renovators said that when the panel was brought to their studio it was covered with so much grease and dirt that the real colours could not be seen. When they washed and cleaned the mosaic, the masters were surprised to see how many different, unusual and beautiful shades and colour mixes there were in the image. Nevertheless, several sections were lost and we had to restore them using photos that were often unclear or blurred. These photos and the mosaic design hang on the studio wall. They serve as basic guidelines of the mosaicists.

“We were amazed by the composition: it is one of the few Soviet mosaics that lacks ideology. It features heroes of that time: a cosmonaut and an athlete. All in all, the panel looks very homey. A woman with children and a grandmother, perhaps the wife and mother of the cosmonaut or athlete, are sitting at the table. There is a jug, a sheaf of wheat and a duck nearby. It is surprising to see the church since it runs counter to Soviet ideology. I can only suggest that artist Yury Korolyov loved church architecture, especially those in Veliky Novgorod, and was inspired by it,” says Alexander Nikitin.

In order to stay true to the colours in the drawings by the designer, the mosaicists laid smalt on white glue. For example, the cosmonaut and the duck are made with transparent glass, and if the base under them is dark, they will lose the correct hue and luminosity.

Once a section is ready, it is sent to the bus station to be assembled. Today, 98 percent of the restoration is complete.

Returning the curve

When the mosaic was inside the bus station it hung from a concrete and brick structure. After the renovation, each section will be mounted differently, with a steel frame.

“To hang the mosaic, we use restoration adhesive and bolts,” says Deputy General Director for Restoration Ilya Chichkin, as we watch a worker in the pavilion near the Shchelkovo Bus Station drilling holes into the section with the duck.

Screws will be put into these holes. During the drilling, pieces of smalt break off, and the restorers will have to glue them in again. This is double work, but it cannot be done otherwise: you cannot calculate where the holes should be at the studio. Moreover, the panel is not flat.

 “Originally the mosaic was curved and embossed. Apparently, this was the artist’s idea. Our task is to restore this impression of movement,” says Ilya Chichkin.

Once the experts assemble the My Fatherland panel, it will be treated with a special graffiti-proof solution. Protective glass will be set 70 centimetres from the panel and illuminated with powerful lamps.

Restoring the mosaic

Although My Fatherland is not a cultural heritage item, the Kiev Square Group that renovated the bus station decided to restore the panel. The restorers work on the mosaic as if it were a rare work of art, with the same excitement and responsibility. They are experienced: Tessera’s specialists have recently restored mosaics in the 18th century Grotto pavilion at the Kuskovo Estate Museum.

“There are two rooms in the pavilion: the southern one representing warm seas, bright and diverse colours; and the northern one, with the cold atmosphere of northern seas. The rooms are decorated with coloured decorative plaster, glass, stones, and shells. We had to look for shells all over the world in order to restore the original appearance,” Alexander Nikitin said.

In the 1970s, renovator and artist Alexei Kuznetsov renovated the Grotto partially. The main thing he did was conserve the landmark to protect it from further deterioration. Today, experts, along with studio head Alexander Sferov, have carried out a full restoration of the interior.

Every mosaic project of the studio is like a complicated puzzle. Once it’s done, the restoration experts are happy like kids. Alexander and Ilya look at the celestial blue cosmonaut and the blushing athlete with pride and pleasure.

“They look alive. That effect is produced by decorative rustic seams between pieces: each image becomes independent, with its own dynamic. Moreover, the adhesive under the panel is flexible. The mosaic seems to breathe,” Ilya Chichkin concludes.

 

Source: mos.ru

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