Grand Army Plaza
The Daily Plant : Thursday, July 24, 2003
MONUMENT TO A GREAT MAN REGAINS ITS LUSTER
This month, the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program began extensive conservation work on the Carl Schurz Monument, a towering piece which stands not in Carl Schurz Park but rather in Morningside Park at 116th Street and Morningside Drive in Manhattan. The monument, which honors the 19th-century statesman, journalist and military officer, is the 42nd work of public art to be conserved since the program started seven summers ago. Conservators and trainees are applying conservation methods to clean and restore the 90-year-old monument.
"I’m pleased that we’ve been able to sustain the program which has proven to be an effective way to preserve our outdoor art collection as well as serving as a vehicle for training individuals entering the profession," said Parks & Recreation Director of Art and Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn, whose division oversees the program.
Knowledge of any part of Schurz’s life reveals how deserving he is of both a park and monument in his honor. Carl Schurz (1829-1906) led a remarkable life on both sides of the Atlantic and was always a champion of democracy and freedom. In his early years, the Prussian-born youth participated in several democratic rebellions which led to his imprisonment and escape. Eventually settling in New York City in 1881, he quickly mastered the English language, earned a law degree, and soon established a reputation as a skilled orator. He was considered to be instrumental in the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and was a staunch abolitionist. During the Civil War, he served as a Major General in the Union army, and afterwards, he prepared a report on post-war racial integration in the Southern states for President Andrew Johnson. In his later years, Schurz was editor of the New York Tribune and an editorial writer for Harper’s Weekly. He continued to be an outspoken advocate of civil service reform.
After his death, money was raised for a monument in his honor. In 1913, New Yorkers dedicated the monument which was designed and created by sculptor Karl Bitter (1867–1915) and architect Henry Bacon (1866–1924). Bacon was also the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Bitter sculpted the statue of Pomona atop the Pulitzer Fountain in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, among other works. Their completed monument honoring the life and humanistic achievements of Schurz consists of a full standing bronze portrait of Schurz in the center of a granite exedra (curved bench) with carved reliefs depicting "The Advancement and Betterment of Man" and "The Liberation of the Slaves" framed by two ornamental bronze luminaries. Incidentally, the statue and its carved reliefs were once the backdrop of a series of photographs taken of the band "The Who" during a visit to New York City in the summer of 1968.
This conservation marks the third performed in Morningside Park by the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program crew since its creation in 1997. In the program’s first season, conservators there restored the Seligman Fountain as well as the Washington and Lafayette monument. The current conservation underway consists of a sensitive removal of soiling and corrosive streaks which disfigure the bronze sculpture. Patina chemicals must also be applied to the heated metal to reestablish the original bronze luster, and protective coatings are added to preserve the surface hue. The granite is also being cleaned of surface pollutants, leached lime from the mortar joints, residual graffiti and biological growth, and the masonry is being repointed. Archival research has been conducted to ensure that the conservation is historically correct. Because the sculpture stands at the edge of a 100-foot cliff, conservators have brought in an 80-foot-long cherry picker to allow work to be conducted in areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.
This year’s conservation team includes several interns, who come from varied places including Vermont, Illinois, Berlin, and—more locally—Staten Island and Brooklyn. "It’s a great group of rather far-flung people," said Kuhn. "And they’ve gelled well as a group learning from each other as well as their able instructors Martha Seelenberger and Jon Cole."
The work conducted by the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program, under the direction of Parks & Recreation, would not be possible without the generous support from the American Express Company, the National Architectural Trust and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The Citywide Monuments Conservation Program has received preservation awards from the New York Landmarks Conservancy (2003), and New York City Art Commission (2002). Other conservation projects slated for this summer include the Puerto Rican Sun statue in the Bronx and the portrait bust of Alexander Skene in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.
Written by Eric Adolfsen
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"Life is made of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating."