Parks Citywide Monuments Program Has Another "Restorative" Summer
New York City’s parks are home to the most extensive public outdoor museum in the nation—its collection of art and monuments. Distributed throughout all five boroughs from neighborhood parks to major civic centers, the art and antiquities includes work by some of the very best artists from the 19th to 21st centuries, from Henry Kirke Brown’s George Washington in Union Square Park (1856) to Alison Saar’s Swing Low: A Memorial to Harriet Tubman (2008) in Harlem.
The job of preserving this collection is a year-round mission, but for the past 16 summers the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program (CMCP) has redoubled this effort in an intensive conservation and training program sponsored by private donations. Since 1997 more than 90 interns, most at the graduate or college level, have helped conserve more than 60 major monuments and artworks, and have performed maintenance (often annually) at more than 100 sites.
The field conservation operation has been managed in recent years by experienced professional conservation managers John Saunders and Christine Djuric. The two conservators direct a team of interns who have studied or are presently enrolled in advanced programs in restoration, historic preservation, art history or decorative arts. This year’s apprentices include David Trayte, an MFA candidate in historic preservation at the Savannah College of Art, Sean Belair, an MA candidate in the conservation of historic works at the University of Lincoln, England, Chad Shores, an MS candidate in historic preservation at Columbia University, and Molly Moser, a graduate of Pratt’s sculpture program and a shop technician at Parsons. Assisting ably with the myriad of administrative coordination from procurement of supplies to documentation of the daily preservation and maintenance projects implemented by the CMCP team as well as the Parks Monuments crew has been Hannah Gall, a recent art history graduate from Fordham University. Hannah is also assisting with a survey of historic Parks monuments acquisition policy and an analysis of current practices here and in other major cities.
Working in all five boroughs, through temperamental seasonal weather, and in often physically strenuous circumstances, the field apprentices have engaged in a diverse range of projects, receiving direct training in bronze and stone restoration, including condition assessments, corrosion removal, patination, application of protective coatings, and masonry cleaning and repair. They began their summer with a collection orientation and training sessions on workplace safety and lift operation.
Early in the season, the interns performed annual maintenance at several dozen sculptures from West Harlem to East New York, Brooklyn, ensuring the annual preservation of previously conserved sculptures, while becoming conversant with the operation of equipment, and the use of cleaning and corrosion removal products and preventative coating systems.
After “hitting the ground running,” the team was elevated to great heights, while tending to the monumental masonry of the Washington Square Arch and the massive bronze sculptural groups of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Brooklyn. At Major John Mark Park in Jamaica, they spent two weeks reinstalling an abstract sculpture known as Wingdale, performing structural repairs, stripping previous failing paint, treating corrosion, and priming and repainting. The Queens Parks operations personnel were essential collaborators in this restoration effort.
This month the conservation program commenced a project of great complexity and difficulty—the restoration of Louise Nevelson’s iconic Night Presence IV, a sculptural assemblage of Cor-ten steel units installed at Park Avenue and 92nd Street in 1973. The original construction methods caused the entrapment of water for decades, causing widespread and extreme accelerating corrosion in recent years. The sculpture has been disassembled, and the team is currently preparing the units for the insertion of selective replacement steel, and the construction of a more sound supporting internal stainless steel framework. Interior cavities will be left open to permit water evacuation and air circulation. The project involves a variety of metal repairs and finishing to ensure the sculpture’s seamless visual continuity and improved structural stability.
The summer intern experience has been further enhanced with several education field trips, including a tour of historic Stony Creek granite quarry (which provided stone for the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty), witnessing a “bronze pour” at the Modern Art Foundry in Astoria, a walk-through of the Metropolitan Museum’s conservation laboratory, and an insider visit to Fort Schuyler in the Bronx, as well as tours of the Noguchi Museum, Mark Di Suvero’s sculpture studio, and the forthcoming Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. These outings are intended to provide a foundation of understanding on the process of artistic creation, materials science and their connection to conservation.
The Citywide Monuments Conservation Program could not exist without private supporters. This summer general program support has been provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and Donna Karan. Other major donors include the American Battle Monuments Commission, the David Schwartz Foundation, and the Association for a Better New York. Sponsorship for the Nevelson has come from numerous donors in a campaign spearheaded by Mildred Glimcher as well as local Park Avenue cooperatives, and has raised $116,000 thus far toward a $140,000 goal. Private benefactors are essential to burnishing the “outdoor museum,” and help support this physically taxing yet sophisticated collection’s care.
Submitted by Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities
QUOTATION OF THE DAY
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things,
but their inward significance.”
(384 BC - 322 BC)