CITYWIDE MONUMENTS TEAM CONSERVES
GENERAL FRANZ SIGEL
On July 19, the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program wrapped up its 44th sculpture conservation—a head-to-hoof treatment of the bronze equestrian statue of Civil War General Franz Sigel (1824-1902) that stands proudly above the 106th Street entrance to Riverside Park.
Sigel was born in Germany in 1824. After leading the unsuccessful revolution of 1848, he fled and settled in 1852 in New York City. Here, he focused his energy on education and journalism, teaching in New York City public schools and writing for the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and The New York Times. Later, in the Civil War, he attained the rank of major general in the Union Army and inspired throngs of German Americans to fight for the Union Army.
Just after Sigel’s death, the eminent Austrian-born sculptor Karl Bitter was commissioned to create a commemorative sculpture. Besides the Sigel portait, Bitter crafted monuments of other foreign-born American military heroes, including statues of the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron Von Steuben, as well as the much-loved Pomona sculpture in front of the Plaza Hotel. Sigel’s bronze effigy was unveiled in 1907 and stands at the apex of a monumental granite pedestal.
When the recent conservation began, the sculpture exhibited the effects of decades of acid rain exposure that had corroded and streaked the bronze surface, rendering its fine modeling illegible. Sigel’s sword, the victim of attempted theft, was salvaged by the Parks Monuments Crew in 1941 and consigned to storage for more than six decades.
The project conservation team removed surface soiling, corrosion, and remnants of previous wax treatments from the statue itself. Based on historical research, the conservation technicians recreated the original color, known as patina, through a series of chemical applications. Protective lacquer and wax coatings were then applied to the bronze surface to ensure the longevity of this treatment. Parks & Recreation blacksmith Larry Hagberg reattached the sword with threaded rods and welds, and the attachments and sword were brazed and patinated to match the rest of the sculpture. The granite pedestal and base were also cleaned, and the masonry joints raked of failed mortar and repointed.
Under the direction of Arts & Antiquities Director Jonathan Kuhn, Monuments Conservation Technicians Martha Seelenberger and Michael Gallagher led the conservation team. Four preservation interns, Sandy Chung and Alison Greenberg of Columbia University, Kelvin Abrego of the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Orit Soffer of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, also worked on the project. Christina Bialek, an intern from New York University, was project coordinator.
As is often the case during conservation projects, the crew was peppered with comments and questions from the local community, and the response was favorable. Leon Auerbach, former head of Friends of Straus Park and long active in the West 106th Street Block Association, brought the crew breakfast on at least one occasion.
"This project marked the culmination of a series of bronze sculpture treatments along Riverside Drive in recent years, including General Butterfield, Lajos Kossuth, and Samuel Tilden, that have helped reverse the long-term deterioration of the statues along this magnificent urban boulevard," commented Jonathan Kuhn. "Besides helping to recover the beauty, structural integrity, and meaning of these commemorative artworks, these conservations have served as catalysts for landscaping and other park improvements. I am very proud of our talented in-house conservators, and the trainees working under their direction. We are also enormously grateful to the private funders who made this project and the broader program possible."
The Citywide Monuments Conservation Program has received preservation awards from the New York Landmarks Conservancy (2003) and the New York City Art Commission (2002) for past conservation projects. The project received major support from National Architectural Trust, the Karen-Weiss Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the Riverside Park Fund.
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"We live amid surfaces, and the
true art of life is to skate well on them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson