Monuments session raises tough questions and unique challenges
Addressing precious interventions was an overarching theme throughout the session. Our Student Scholar, Cynthia Rothwell, gave listeners a detailed review of the history of restoration treatments that the infamous marble David statue in Florence underwent – some were downright appalling from the perspective of our present-day conservation practices! Current work on the Eternal Indian Statue by Anne Sullivan and Amy Lamb Woods looks towards compatible restoration methods and materials, along with creative solutions to the fact that original materials aren’t always available 100 years later.
Michael Kramer reminded us that even with comprehensive testing and treatment planning, unanticipated problems still arise. In his discussion of the re-gilding of Central Park’s Sherman Monument, Michael explained how the manufacturer’s alteration of a product caused serious performance failure.
Stephanie Hoagland and I touched on questions of authenticity, recreation, and the philosophy of interventions. In her discussion of historic plaster interventions at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, she clearly presented the pros and cons of various levels of intervention, taking into consideration issues of safety, public perception, and treatment cost for the museum. I participated in this session with a review of the conservation of Alexander Hamilton’s monument, where we recreated a tooled finish on stone that had been heavily damaged in the past. The original stone itself was saved, but how “authentic” are the tool marks we added? Several of the session’s talks focused on taking the best possible approach in reality – reality being irreversible previous damage, cost limitations, and material availability, among others.
Conservation philosophy changes with the decades, and we are currently at a point where we must be systematic and thorough in our approach to any historic monument. I think the papers in this session emphasize this; while providing some answers and solutions, it is often the questions that arise from challenging projects that advance our discourse and technical approach to our work.