This talk is part of the Fountain Fundamentals Conference held July 10-11, 2013, Kansas City, MO.
Bringing the Fountain Back to Life – Marble and Bronze Conservation and Sculptural Figure Replication by Ricardo Viera and Michele Boyd
The Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life was created in 1905 following the designs of sculptorCharles E. Tefft and architect Robert W. Gibson. This monumental water feature consists of three large bronze sculptural groups arranged on a tiered arrangement of marble pedestals and basins at the center of an ornamental forecourt to the historic Museum Building of the New York Botanical Garden in New York City. The fountain is an integral component of theGarden’s formal, “City Beautiful” landscape. The use of bronze sculpture, the classical form of the fountain, and the quality of design and materials employed on the exterior façade of the Museum Building embody the ideals and the stylistic idioms of Beaux Arts design. The New York Botanical Garden is a designated NYC landmark.
The Fountain of Life is signed “Roman Bronze Works, N.Y. 1905.” The Roman Bronze Works, founded in New York City in 1897 by Italian emigrant Riccardo Bertelli(1870-1955) and little-known sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, was the first American foundry tospecialize in the “lost-wax” or Cire-Perdue casting method. The Roman Bronze Works wasa premier American foundry known both for the quality of its work and for Bertelli’s charisma.Frederick Remington, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and many other great American artists favored the foundry.
Although a centuries-old tradition, lost-wax casting was not used in America until the closingyears of the 19th century; sand-casting having been the favored process between 1850 and the mid-to-late1890s. The lost-wax method gave artists greater flexibility to make adjustments and improvements, and allowed a higher degree of fidelity to the model, with sharper, more precise detail. At the turn of the century, Bertelli strongly influenced sculptors and other foundries to embrace the lost-wax method, then growing in popularity in Europe.
By 2002, when Building Conservation Associates, Inc. (BCA) was engaged as part of a team to assess its condition, the fountain had suffered over the years from vandalism, inappropriate cleaning procedures, and a lack of proper maintenance.
This presentation will focus on the conditions of and treatments to the fountain’s primary materials, marble and bronze, as well as upgrades to the plumbing and electrical systems which were not operating as intended. The most challenging restoration issue was the loss of two keyfigures, a “mer-man” and a “mer-woman” from the sculptural composition. These figures had been removed at an unknown date and were never located. Hence, an important component of the project was the re-creation of these two lost figures. We will discuss the replication process whereby archival documentation was used to re-create the two missing figures in the lost-wax casting process.
The overall study included extensive archival research, a materials conditions survey, bronze cleaning and repatination tests, stone and mortar analysis and probes, as well as treatment and maintenance recommendations. The goal of the restoration was to return the fountain to as close to the original appearance as possible while upgrading plumbing and electrical systems to contemporary standards.
Ricardo Viera, Associate Director, has been with BCA since 1990 and has performed and overseen numerous conservation and historic preservation consulting projects. He specializes in the restoration of building materials, with particular expertise in terra cotta restoration. Mr. Viera holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Historic Preservation and a master’s of Architecture from the University of Florida.
Michele Boyd, Associate, joined BCA’s preservation department in 2002. Michele is an architectural historian and preservationist. She completed her M.S. in historic preservation at Columbia University. Her recent experience includes development of comprehensive preservation plans and historic structure reports for the 19th and early 20th century buildings on the campus of the Newark Museum. Her work at BCA is centered on conducting archival research and developing architectural histories and significance studies, documenting existing conditions, and conducting restoration design review for compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.