Daily Plant Masthead

Volume XXXX, Number 6630
Monday, Aug 08, 2016


Jonathan Kuhn

New York City’s parks are home to the most extensive public outdoor museum in the nation—its collection of art and monuments. Located in all five boroughs from neighborhood parks to civic centers, the art and antiquities includes work in a range of styles, many serving as permanent reminders of people and events which shaped our history and heritage. Others may be admired for their pure aesthetic value.

Preserving this collection is a year-round mission, but each summer for the past 20, the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program (CMCP) has conducted an intensive conservation and training program sponsored by private donations. Since 1997 more than 100 interns have conserved more than 75 major monuments and artworks, and maintained (often annually) more than 100 sites.

The field conservation operation is directed this summer by long-time Parks conservation manager John Saunders. Two experienced apprentices with graduate-level training in historic preservation and metal work, Kristen Munchheimer and Dorothy Cheng, have participated in this 10-week program. Both have come a great distance to gain valuable up-close experience in New York City--Kristen travelling from her home in Berlin, while Dorothy hails from Seattle, Washington.

Working throughout the city, in often tropical conditions and physically challenging situations, these field apprentices have carried out a diverse range of projects, receiving hands-on training in bronze and stone conservation, including condition assessments, corrosion removal, patination, application of protective coatings, and masonry cleaning and repair. A collection overview on day one introduced the interns to how the collection evolved, its meaning and materials.

The early weeks of the summer saw a potpourri of monuments care at numerous locations, as the team performed preservation work and preventative care at more than two dozen sites, including a cluster of contemporary and historical artworks in Harlem parks, and a series of major statuary along Riverside Drive. Statues of Lafayette, Washington and the Independence Flagstaff in Union Square were cleaned and recoated prior to the July 4th holiday. Just before Gay Pride weekend the conservation team reapplied a specially-formulated white lacquer renewed George Segal’s Gay Liberation in Christopher Park—a project that took on added significance in the wake of the gay night-club slayings in Orlando, and the designation of the park as a National Historic Monument by President Obama.

In Brooklyn General Warren’s replica of a long-missing sword, sculpted and installed earlier in the year, was patinated to match the sculpture, and the entire piece was stripped of its failing lacquer coating, and refinished with wax. Other statues in and around Prospect Park also received treatment. The landmark Washington Square Arch received a week of attention including removal of bio-growth and soiling, and sounding fragile marble details for structural stability. Much of the work was undertaken from an 80-foot lift, a job not for the faint of heart or prone to vertigo.

Staff and interns next set their sights on the elaborate Verdi Monument on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Erected in 1906, and honoring the famed composer, its stepped cylindrical pedestal supports a portrait sculpture of Verdi surrounded by personifications of four operatic characters. The group conducted masonry repairs, repointed failed mortar joints, removed algae imbedded in the porous stone, in-painted inscriptions and chemical consolidation to strengthen its structural integrity.

This past week was dedicated to reviving the Chief Nimham Monument in Van Cortlandt Park, a cairn of natural boulders that honors the heroic Native American chief and the Stockbridge Indians massacred by the British nearby while in service of the Colonial army. Using hand tools the crew removed compromised and eroded mortar, reset stones, and re-mortared, improving the structural stability and aesthetic appearance. The landscape is slated for a capital upgrade in 2017.

The season concludes with dedicated efforts at a variety of far-flung sites. Their journeys coincide with the recent posting on the NYC Parks website of an interactive map of all monuments and public art. Three historic statues from Tompkinsville to Snug Harbor were treated on Staten Island. A trio of historic portrait sculptures to President Chester A. Arthur, Senator Roscoe Conkling and Secretary of State William Seward will receive attention, as will bronze statues in East New York and Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The team ventures to Verona, New Jersey to make molds of a bayonet and plaque from a bronze “doughboy” that is “twin” to one long stored from Highbridge, and these will be used to cast replicas of missing components of our sculpture, slated to be restored and reinstalled at long last in 2017.

The summer intern educational experience has been enhanced with relevant field trips to the historic Modern Art Foundry in Astoria to witness a bronze “pour”, the Stony Creek granite quarry (which provided stone for the Brooklyn Bridge, the recently built Battery seating wall, and 15 park monuments), an insider tour of the Frick Art Reference Library, and a studio visit with a leading contemporary artist, Tony Matelli.

The program would not exist were it not for the generosity of sponsors who augment the City’s commitment. These private benefactors are essential to sustaining the program, and ensuring that the collection shines.

Submitted by Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities


“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” Jim Rohn (1930 - 2009)

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