Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 2, Page 12
Winter 1993
On Campus
Saving outdoor sculpture

     From Mt. Rushmore's presidential giants to a guardian angel in an old
cemetery, outdoor sculptures represent the nation's most visible, but
sometimes most overlooked and neglected, artistic treasures. In recent
years, researchers in art and in science have joined forces to preserve
this part of our artistic heritage.
     At Delaware, Wayne Craven, H.F. du Pont Professor of Art History,
and John D. Meakin, chairperson of the Department of Mechanical
Engineering, are two faculty involved in the conservation of outdoor
     Author of the definitive book Sculpture in America and the creator
of the Index of American Sculpture now computerized and maintained by the
National Museum of Modern Art, Craven is an acknowledged authority on
American sculpture and painting.
     In 1964, he and his wife, Lorna, embarked on a "safari" to record
sculptures in wide-ranging locations, from Bangor, Maine, to Charleston,
S.C., and Cincinnati, Ohio. They were equipped with camera, flood lights,
card table and typewriter.
     "No one else had done this," Craven recalls, "and no one knew what
sculptures existed and where they were located."
     When Craven and his wife would arrive in a town, they would look
for outdoor sculptures in parks, squares and cemeteries, and for indoor
sculptures in libraries, museums and public buildings. They made inquiries
about where sculptures were located and if there were any local artists.
Then, using local resources, such as the library or historical society,
Craven would research the statuary. His wife set up the card table and
typewriter to record his notes. "There was no Xerox then so we couldn't
just copy pages," he says.
     Some of sculptures were unusual, such as a mortar and pestle
marking the grave of a pharmacist, or an inscription on one piece,
announcing this was the artist's first work. The odyssey ended when the
muffler fell off the car and the weather got extremely hot. "I repaired the
car, and we headed for home," Craven says.
     A member of the American Antiquarian Society and the National
Sculpture Society, Craven recently was invited to serve on the advisory
board of Save Outdoor Sculpture or SOS. Launched by the National Museum of
American Art, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, and the National
Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, the goal of SOS is to
identify and protect outdoor sculpture in all 50 states.
     Craven says he feels his research on sculpture can be of
particular value to SOS in one area. Most sculptors apply a patina to their
works. To restore a piece to its original color requires some research,
such as looking back to a sculptor's correspondence with a foundry. From my
research resources, I help determine the original color of the patina," he
says. The corrosion process itself is of interest to John D. Meakin, an
engineer whose area of expertise is metallurgy.
     When American sculptor Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson created the
popular bronze statue, The Hiker, in 1902, she probably had no idea how
valuable her tribute to Spanish-American War veterans would be to
scientists in the 1980s and 90s. About 50 bronze castings of the statue,
made between 1906 and 1965 by the Gorham Co. of Rhode Island, can be found
at locations across the eastern half of the United States.
     A University of Delaware project uses these statues to study the
effects on bronze of acid rain, as well as the dry deposition of gases and
particulates cast into the air from cars, industry and other sources,
     The project was initiated in 1984 by David L. Ames, director of
the University's Center for Historic Architecture and Engineering, Meakin
has carried the project forward. The researchers initially decided to
concentrate on 10 statues in the New England area and to analyze corrosion
caused by the immediate environment.
     "People are so used to seeing bronze statues with a green color
that they think this is the way they are intended to look. However, the
green color is the result of corrosion from rain and other atmospheric
conditions when the bronze surface is converted into green hydrated
sulfate. The more acidic the rain, the more corrosion accelerates, with
pitting and metal loss," Meakin says.
     Ames and Meakin literally mapped the statues to develop an overall
corrosion picture of each of them. The "maps" showed protected areas that
were still the original brown-black color, areas where some pitting and
etching had occurred and areas of contiguous sulfide green where general
corrosion had taken place.
     Through various methods, including color photography, scrapings of
the corroded surface and metal samples of identical parts of the statues,
Ames and Meakin studied variations in corrosion and the level of acidic
     With a recent grant from the National Park Service, Meakin is
using a dental material to make molds of the end of the rifle barrel in the
statue. This replicates the surface, so that Meakin can compare the degree
of corrosion of the statues with various techniques including scanning
electron microscopy. The surface profile information is being recorded and
     "We suspect that The Hiker statues in rural settings, away from
traffic, are less corroded than those exposed to industrial pollution and
exhaust emissions. The Hiker project has made a significant contribution to
developing ways of maintaining and protecting the country's monuments and
statues, which are a part of our country's aesthetic heritage," Meakin
                                        --Sue Swyers Moncure