Alma Mater to be removed for crack, stain repair

_Editor’s note: This article is a part of our Year in Review issue. Summer publication begins May 14._

After a thorough inspection of the renowned Alma Mater sculpture earlier this year, the University’s Preservation Working Group, or PWG, determined that the bronze statue would be temporarily removed for conservation purposes.

Jennifer Hain Teper, conservation librarian and PWG chair, said the inspection showed clear evidence that the sculpture was in need of better care and that professionals needed to take a look at it.

“Certainly nobody wants to see the sculpture leave, but everybody recognizes that it needs to be cared for,” Teper said. “If we don’t do something to take care of it soon, we might see some serious damage to the sculpture in the next few years.”

The $99,962 restoration will be completed by the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio Inc. and will be paid for by the Chancellor’s Fund, a pool of money donated to the chancellor’s office from outside sources. Methods & Materials Inc. will take the statue down and move it to the studio.

Originally, the sculpture was scheduled to be moved a week after commencement ceremonies this month and returned to its place at least a week before graduation in 2013 so graduating students could still have their pictures taken in front of it. Because of scheduling conflicts with the two companies, the Alma Mater will not be moved until August 2012, but Teper said this should not change the studio’s ability to complete the project and reinstall the statue on time.

Melvyn Skvarla, campus historic preservation officer, said the sculptor of the Alma Mater, Lorado Taft, had intended for the sculpture to be touched and climbed on. As a result, however, the extra stress caused cracks to form over the years.

In the 1981 repair of the sculpture, the University’s staff used caulk to cover some of these cracks. Skvarla said this caulk prevented water from getting inside, but it also prevented water from getting out, which is likely causing serious internal damage through oxidation. Until the studio can investigate the statue’s interior, it is unknown how extensive the conservation work is going to be, Skvarla said.

In addition to interior damage, the originally bronze-colored sculpture has turned green, and parts of it are covered with black streaks and white splotches. Skvarla said this tarnish is a result of exposure to air pollution and the natural environment.

The University has yet to decide whether the Alma Mater will be restored to its natural bronze color or made to appear green again after it is returned to its place at the corner of Wright and Green streets.

In February, Christa Deacy-Quinn, PWG member, said staff conservators will be presenting three lectures throughout the course of the project to keep the public updated on their progress. The dates for these lectures have not yet been announced.

“We want people to understand that the Alma Mater has to leave in order to be taken care of properly,” Deacy-Quinn said. “Since we must conserve Alma Mater, we want to do it right.”