B is for Bacchus … and Basketball

/ February 20, 2019

Since the Bacchus Conservation Project was established in 2013, the team has worked with curators, conservators, classicists, art historians, scientists, engineers, and artists. However, none of us ever thought we’d end up working with a basketball player. 

Wait! What? In our last post, we mentioned that instead of taking the sculpture apart, we are going to re-restore the Statue of Bacchus and do something about that missing right arm.

We’re putting Bacchus back together, so why not include a new arm as well?


When Bacchus arrived at the NCMA in the late 1950s, he was already missing his right arm. We don’t know what happened to it, but we found out it went missing between 1945 and 1949. The arm was raised, with the hand holding a bunch of grapes—one of the clues that help identify the man represented in the sculpture as Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. (We found a small photo dated to 1945, and there is also a drawing of the statue published in 1837. Both show Bacchus holding grapes above his head.) We’re putting Bacchus back together, so why not include a new arm as well? It’s a bit unorthodox, but as with any conservation project, the process is reversible.

Clearly, the artists who used the rare second-century torso to create a whole new sculpture had a keen sense of proportions when they added different limbs to it. With the new arm, it is important that we keep these proportions and the well-defined musculature that we see in all the fragments. We are working with Hillsborough artist Larry Heyda to re-create this arm. Heyda is a specialist in the human form and has an engineering background; he is exactly what Bacchus needs.

Heyda required a model to pose for him to observe the musculature of the arm in the raised position, holding grapes. Considering that Bacchus measures 6 feet 8 inches, Heyda proposed that the model be a basketball player, who would have the height, build, and musculature needed. Heyda looked through the roster of players at local universities to find the best match to Bacchus.

That is why the Bacchus team headed to the Dail Basketball Center practice facility at North Carolina State University to meet with graduate transfer Wyatt Walker—an unexpected consultant for an ancient art conservation project. Walker was a good sport about it all (although at first, he did think it was a prank pulled by his new teammates). He posed for Heather Pendrak of Pendragon 3D, who scanned his arm as he sat in Heyda’s special chair created for the modeling session. Posing for an artist is not easy, even less so when you must hold a bunch of grapes above your head for what probably felt like an eternity (with 3-D scanning, it took 20 minutes). The rigging on the special chair helped Walker keep his arm raised without shaking during the scan. It was a good thing Walker was sitting; Pendrak had to stand on a chair to scan the tips of his fingers!

Besides helping Heyda create the new arm for the sculpture, Pendrak’s scan of Walker’s arm will also help Andrew Terrell with the engineering analysis. In return, Terrell will be able to help us figure out what are the best materials for the replica in order to prevent undue weight, pressure, or torque to the existing sculpture.

Watch the video below to see the Bacchus team at work!


The Bacchus Conservation Project is grateful to Wyatt Walker, head coach Kevin Keatts, and Dawn Winters for fulfilling our unusual request.

Caroline Rocheleau
Caroline Rocheleau is director of research and curator of ancient art at the NCMA.

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