First of all, a moment of silence as we observe the 76th anniversary of Lorado Taft’s death, October 30, 1936. I want him to know that we’re still thinking about him!
I went to Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery last week to pay my respects to Taft’s two memorials: “The Crusader,” at the grave of Victor Lawson, dated 1931, and “Eternal Silence,” at the grave of Dexter Graves, dated 1909. “The Crusader” looks great. The granite is clean and does not appear to have been affected by any environmental conditions. He’s safe.
“Eternal Silence,” however, may not be doing so well. As you can see from these photos, there are numerous patches, and there is an inexplicable horizontal stripe about mid-level. But my main concern is the amount of advanced oxidation on the piece.
I wish I knew more about patinas and corrosion. It is my impression that the green substance that develops on bronze is unhealthy for the bronze and actually eats into the surface, which may explain the patches on “Eternal Silence.” I’m trying to locate a conservator in the Chicago area who would be willing to look at the memorial with me.
A recent article in the Champaign News-Gazette about the restoration of “Alma Mater” described how this figure grouping has its own corrosion problems. The author described how Andrzej Dajnowski (Sculpture and Objects Studio Inc. of Forest Park), who is supervising Alma’s makeover, is dealing with hundreds of iron bolts on the interior of the sculpture that have corroded or disintegrated, indicating serious structural problems. 300 to 500 bolts will have to be replaced on each of the three figures, plus the chair, which was too big to be x-rayed. The Campus Preservation Working Group had hoped that the restoration project would mostly involve surface repairs, but only time will tell the new prognosis.
I also talked with Robert LaFrance, a curator at the Krannert Art Museum. He wrote: “I’m not an expert in bronzes but I do know that there are good natural patinas and bad ones. A good, thin natural green patina can actually protect the bronze in a sculpture by providing a hard crust against the elements. But Taft was of course unaware of acid rain and other modern problems, such as the sulfur from car exhaust reacting with sunshine and water to create sulfuric acid, which attacks marbles and bronzes. This may be the cause of that pitting that you see.”
I had heard that there is a long-range planning committee at Graceland, looking into the condition of various pieces, so I stopped by the cemetery office and spoke with the manager. She told me that, to her knowledge, the survey had been completed and any needed work had been done. When I voiced my concern over the corrosion on “Eternal Silence,” she recommended I speak with the Graves family.
Add to this issue the fact that people LIKE “Eternal Silence” to be green, just as they like the green of the “Statue of Liberty.” Imagining “Eternal Silence” in a glossy brown is near impossible – and not nearly as spooky. When the “Young Lincoln” statue in Urbana was restored, he got a new GREEN patina that was even throughout the shadows and highlights. Dajnowski may have to face the same challenge with “Alma Mater” – will the public insist that the green be replaced?
What are your thoughts? What do you know about corrosion and oxidation? What would YOU do about “Eternal Silence”? And what color would you like “Alma Mater” to be? I look forward to hearing from you.