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
Striegel: Our next speakers will be talking about Bringing the Fountain Back to Life; Marble and Bronze Conservation and Sculptural Figure Replication. It will be Ricardo Viera and Michelle Boyd.
Ricardo is the Associate Director and has been at BCA which is the Building Conservation Associates since 1990 and has performed and overseen a number of conservation and historic preservation consulting projects. He specializes in the restoration of historic buildings 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.
Michelle Boyd is an associate and joined BCA’s Preservation Department in 2002. Michelle is an architectural historian preservationist. She completed her Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation at Columbia University. Her recent experience includes the development of comprehensive preservation plans and historic structure reports for 19th and 20th century buildings on the campus of 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 reviews for compliance with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Thank you.
Viera: Thank you, Mary.
In 2002, Building Conservation Associates was commissioned to conduct a study of the Fountain of Life for the New York Botanical Gardens. The study included archival research, a conditions survey, bronze cleaning, repatination tests and probes that culminated in the preparation of bid documents and our monitoring of the restoration work.
The goal of the restoration was to return the fountain to as close to its original appearance as possible while upgrading the plumbing, electrical systems to contemporary standards. BCA was the restoration consultant in the restoration of the museum building that is seen in the photo as a backdrop to the fountain. But not until the restoration of the fountain was completed in 2005, did the restoration of the museum feel complete. Today we will share the story of this fountain and its restoration.
Since the fountain is a work of art as well as a city landmark, both the art commission of the City of New York, now called the Design Commission, as well as the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, were involved in the rehabilitation. Because the rehabilitation required the fabrication of two missing bronzes figures, the two city agencies concluded that the art commission would take the lead with the review of this rehabilitation.
Under our direction electrical, plumbing, lighting, and water proofing contractors were brought in to help with the assessment and recommendations. The rehabilitation required the involvement of the above, as well as sculptors and historians that specialized in sculptures of the period and a foundry that cast new bronze figures. The collaboration of many was required to bring the Fountain of Life back to life. Michelle is going to talk about the history of the fountain.
Boyd: Founded in 1891 and located within Bronx Park, the New York Botanical Gardens showcases one of the world’s great collections of plants and is a renowned educational center for gardening and horticulture. This 1921 view of the Botanical Garden shows the museum building, now known as the library was designed in 1896 by architect Robert W. Gibson and completed in 1901. The museum originally housed the gardens, preserved botanical specimens, and was the first American museum devoted solely to botany. Gibson’s vision included a monumental forecourt and fountain in front of the museum building. Together the museum, forecourt, and fountain form a prominent architectural focal point at the New York Botanical Gardens.
The fountain itself was intended as the center piece of Gibson’s carefully composed approach to the museum building. The museum’s forecourt seen here in 1902 just after its completion was designed to be symmetrical and longitudinal, terminating at one end with a domed museum building. The fountain structure can be seen in the background of this image just in front of the museum building. When Gibson designed the museum and its forecourt, he envisioned a fountain as the focus of the vista looking toward the museum and as having upper and lower water basins, the flowing water element giving distinctive character both as a landscape feature and as a botanical exhibit.
Gibson designed a rusticated marble plinth and basins shown in this image as the setting for a sculptural group to be designed through competition. The competition was held under the auspices of the National Sculptural Society. The jury was composed of prominent sculptors Daniel Chester French, John Quincy Adams Ward, Charles Grafly and Herbert Adams as well as architect George B. Post. Fifteen sculptors submitted designs and in April 1903, that of Charles E. Tefft was selected. Taft completed his full plaster model in September of 1904 and the contract for casting and setting the bronze was granted to the Roman Bronze Works Foundry in Green Point, Brooklyn. These images show Taft’s models as proof by the New York City Art Commission in January of 1905. Born in Maine in 1874, Tefft was a leading public sculptor of the early twentieth century, although he is little known today.
Cast in the lost wax process by which the intricate detail of the artist’s sculpture can be recreated in metal, the fountain was completed in May of 1905 and became fully operational 108 years ago to this month. Sculptor Augustus St. Gardens praised Tefft’s work and writer Frank Owen Paine opined and I quote, “No other fountain of the city of New York is so admirably located. With the imposing facade of the great Botanic Museum behind it and with its superb setting of fine shrubbery, this fountain is indeed a thing of rare beauty. The sculptor has called this the Fountain of Life typifying as it were the great life principle of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest.”
Viera: Period photos show the fountain’s primary sculptural group, heroic in scale and mounted on a rusticated pedestal, dominated by two horses with web feet emerging from surging wave appear to be caught in a running leap into the water below. The other sculpture consists of two semi-human aquatic figures, male and female, flanking the base of the rusticated pedestal. Facing sideways, the man and woman wear startled expressions as they turn to gape at the uncommon horses. This period photo shows that the water originally flowed into the shallower upper basin from the mouths of small bronze masks and adjacent opening surrounding the base of the wave, as well as from springs spout within the grotto of the rusticated base. The upper basin gently overflowed into a deeper and much larger lower basin leaving its surface relatively undisturbed for exhibitions of aquatic botanicals.
Sometime after 1938, cracking was observed in the marble plinths and basin and plans were made to reset the bronze merpeople. However, these figures were removed either for these repairs as a source of scrap metal during the war or by vandals and were never located despite the great effort expended to find them. The view on the right shows that the two bronze sculptures, the water element both key figures of the fountains were missing. In 1961, the balustrade on the left was also replaced by the brick wall and concrete coping but due to the limited funds, the balustrade was not in the scope.
Drawings of the fountains were not available so one of our first tasks was to combine photographs of the existing bronze sculptures with measured CAD drawings of marble features. These drawings became the basis for our bid documents. The slide on the left shows a photographer in the process of taking the photos used for the base drawings. Archival information stated that the fountain was dismantled and reassembled in 1976 after displaced stones were observed in the plinths and basins. It was important to determine that construction of the plinth, particularly the areas behind the displaced marble units. It was found that solid concrete wall existed behind the marble ploting. The concrete was found to be in excellent condition and was assumed to be installed in 1976 when the fountain was reassembled. Since the back wall was found to be in good condition, it was presumed that the stone displacement was attributed to the pressures exerted by freezing and thawing of water. The fact that the stone was not anchored to the back wall facilitated the displacement process. The rusticated stones that clad the pedestal base were at least six inches deep. Units that were exposed on two or more sides were at least twelve inches deep and the stones on the basin wall and grotto are even deeper. Many of the joints were cracked or deteriorated and had been filled with sealant at different times in an attempt to waterproof them. Since the fountain was previously dismantled, we decided not to perform mortar analysis of the replacement mortar. A new modern mortar that was used in and around fountains and that are compatible hardness and color to the marble were recommended.
The marble surfaces were generally soiled with atmospheric pollution in places. The marble was also disfigured by organic growth and run off from copper and iron elements. Water misting and biocides were used to remove the soiling and organic growth. Bluish green staining caused by runoff from copper elements was prominent at the sculptural base and back wall. The lower puto also shows a result of ammonia based copper stains removal poultices that were applied. In some instances it took several times to remove the copper stains (referring to the slide on the bottom).
Archival records indicated that the marble and bronze figures were sandblasted in 1968 by the Parks Department. The roughened surfaces of the marble provided physical proof that the fountain was in fact, sandblasted. A sandblasted marble is more prone to collect soiling, metallic stains and biogrowth than stone that has not been abrasively cleaned. Despite the fact that the stone maybe slightly more susceptible to retaining moisture, soiling and staining, due to the rougher surface texture, the sides of the units were taken into account and the fact that the stone had been weathering for thirty-five years and was sandblasted.
Dr. George Wheeler, Director of Scientific Research at BCA and Research Chemist for the Metropolitan Museum of Art looked at the surfaces of the stone and determined that testing of the marble for permeability or absorption would not be necessary because he would not ultimately recommend any remedial action to the surfaces of the marble. It was determined that the negligible results of either consolidating the stone or tooling of the surfaces would not justify the cost of these treatments. Taking these facts into account it was determined that the general surface treatment of the marble surfaces would be limited to soil and stain removal.
As is typical of bronzes in urban environment, a tenacious layer of black corrosion products and atmospheric soil existed on the areas of the sculpture that were protected from water runoff. The light green streaks through the black layers areas are areas of loss of metal caused by acid rain repeatedly following the same path of the runoff. The orange peel texture caused by many small pits on the bronze and the relatively thin layer of patina provided evidence that the sculptures were also abrasively cleaned. The pits were typically superficial but a few could be seen to go through the entire thickness of the bronze even with the naked eye.
Salts which accelerate the bronze corrosion crystalized where the holes went through the thickness of the metal. The salts were formed when water containing dissolved salts perhaps from chlorine in the water, evaporated. In this photo you might be able to see the seam where the two different castings were attached and the different pitted surfaces of each casting. There were several stress cracks in the bronze as seen here in the foot of the nymph however these were not typical to the sculpture. Splits and stress cracks in the bronze were repaired by cutting open the split or crack, pulling up one side of the opening, then hammering down and raising the pulled side back into place. Some incompatible iron features were present on the sculpture and iron corrosion stains were visible on the bronze. These ferrous and/or non-original anchors were drilled out from the bronze and the resulting holes were braised closed.
During the restoration of the museum building, great effort was expended to keep the green patina on the dome of the building. The patina on the fountain’s sculptures harmonized with the patina of the dome. In addition, during the archival research it was found that reference to the original specifications for the statue called for statuary bronze of the best quality to be tinted a light sea green. For these reasons, tests were performed in an attempt to remove the soiling, streaks, and black corrosion product from the metal without removing the green patina. Removal of the black corrosion layer was not attempted. This would have caused loss of metal from the already thin metal surface and would have exposed a bright bronze surface which would then have required repatination. Instead the corrosion layer was stabilized by chemically converting it and/or by covering it with protective coating.
A small test was selected on the head of the fish. The area was first brushed with a bronze wire brush and was heated with a propane torch. A solution of ammonium chloride was prepared and brush applied to the heated surfaces. The black corrosion product and the streaked soiling turned yellow when compared to the overall green less soiled areas of the bronze sculpture. In a further attempt to attain a matching color, a solution of cupric nitrate was applied on the leg of the Pluto followed by the same procedure as for the ammonium chloride solution. The procedure resulted in a color that was very close to the existing green stable patina. Based on our tests it was determined that the copper nitrate provided the best color match to the surrounding clean patina. The photo on the right shows how surfaces of the repatinated area would appear after a protective hot wax coating was applied (still on the left) shows how the patina would look with the lacquer in the center and shows the patination with a cold wax coating on the right. Since we wanted to extend the life of the protective coating as much as possible we opted to apply both a lacquer followed by a cold wax. This is one of my favorite pictures. The propane torch was apparently too hot for the sea nymph in this photo.
An access hatch that leads to the inside of the bronze sculpture was missing and had to be recast in bronze. Much of the hatch had to be shaped by hammering it in place to assure a smooth tight fit. The hatch was then patinated with a cupric nitrate solution. Cracked and loose sections of the sculpture as in this case a crabs claw, was braised and re-secured with bronze pins. Parts of the walls of the upper and lower basins had been lined with a black rubberized coating. According to the botanical garden staff, this rubberized coating was applied between 1998 and 2003 but contained numerous cracks and spalls. This coating was mechanically removed. Areas that were spalled were patched with a cementitious patching material and a new liquid applied reinforced polymer membrane was applied. As a final step but not shown in these photos, crushed marble dust was telegraphed onto the membrane while the coating was still wet so that the membrane could blend in with the marble basin.
The antiquated and inefficient water circulation system consisted of various elements pieced together over the years. The original plumbing system was completely altered so that the originally intended water display could not be achieved. Unsightly PVC pipes were mounted on the surface of the marble using masonry anchors and ran from a small pump that branched into two directions. One branch led to a copper pipe system that distributed water out of the mask, the second led to a water nozzle in the middle of the upper basin. The nozzle shot a ten foot vertical spray of water that was completely foreign to the original water scheme. The water pressure was so insufficient that two concrete baffles were installed to limit the amount of water that went to the sides to create the illusion that a lot of water was flowing out of the center of the fountain.
The plumbing within the sculpture is accessible to the new hatch. This was a view of the newly installed lines; each couple of lines had a valve to help adjust the water flow. Period photographs show water coming out of these masks and slots under considerable amount of pressure. Two pumps that were installed and placed behind a space of the fountain provided for ample pressure as well as for the water to be recirculated. Here are two views showing the new water supply in the fountain. As mentioned, we never found the two missing merpeople so we fabricated them using a lost wax method as was done 108 years ago. Here are views of the clay models. The new merpeople had to go through several adjustments based on available archival images as well as interpretation by sculpture historians of areas that were not visible from our photos. They helped adjust features like the extent of their musculature or if the crotch area of the mermen would be left exposed covered by a leaf and if so, what kind of leaf.
Here is the merman’s clay approved model and the bronze to the right. It was a challenge to get the new casting the same color as the restored one hundred year old bronze but we think we did a pretty successful endeavor. Here’s the mermaid’s clay approved model and the bronze below. Here’s an archival image and the restored fountain. The relationship between the upper bronze features and splashing water and the merpeople were key parts of the fountain that had been missing for many decades. It was great to see the original design intent reinstated.
Electrical power and lighting at the fountains were minimal. The system was limited to a row of uplights behind the fountain and two ground mounted lights inside the rusting electrical box in the front of the fountain. No archival evidence was found to indicate that the fountain was originally lighted. Fifteen submersible lights were installed for the lower basin and seven wet/dry fixtures for the top of the pedestal. The lighting accentuated the cascading water and highlighted the newly restored surfaces of the fountain.
After the fountain was completed, the Garden decided that they liked the effects that a white aggregate has on water. So they had several thousand pounds of aggregate installed in the basin to create a light shimmering effect. BCA was already off the job and we knew nothing about this until we received a call from the Garden to see why holes were popping up all over the basin floor. Apparently leaves were getting stuck within the aggregate and making the task of cleaning the basin very difficult, so they removed the aggregate using shovels. The shoveling poked holes all over the liner causing water bubbles to spring up everywhere. BCA was rehired to create specs to remove and monitor the reinstallation of the liner.
We had asked the Garden to budget an allowance for an ongoing cyclical maintenance program. The maintenance program included yearly re-waxing of the bronze sculptures, removal of encroaching vegetation, washing the marble surfaces using mild detergents to keep them free of biological growth and general soiling, drain the basin and empty all piping when temperatures dropped before freezing, service the pumps, clean and flush out spigots, nozzles and drains and grease all plumbing connections and valves.
This was a photo taken a couple of weeks ago when I went to see how the fountain was doing. It was a pleasant surprise to see that all of the water in the fountain was turned off, that they were in the process of cleaning the marble in the basin. The liner seemed to be in good condition but according to Garden staff, the bronze features have not yet been re-waxed but at least some of our maintenance recommendations were being implemented.
This is the concluding slide. This is an overall view of the fountain during the maintenance during the visit. That’s it.
Striegel: Do we have questions? Yes.
Unknown: Can you speak about what you did to cracks in the marble again?
Viera: The cracks that were observed in the marble, it depends if it was hairline cracks versus wider cracks. They were filled with perhaps two different materials. If they were wide, we routed them open and filled them with patching material. Hairline cracks we did not open them any wider but we injected them probably with a dispersed hydrated lime to cover them so that water doesn’t keep on getting in and opening them up anymore.
Unknown: I wanted to address this to you and of course everybody that is here, this is a long range discussion of about the longevity of Incralac and wax coatings and combined and it always seemed to me that in a water spray or wet environment this is even more of an interesting question, do you have any experience from this project or others as to what happens with these coatings near the waterline or put in a spray, does anyone else have experience about that?
Viera: As much as what we know because of the constant abrasion by the water, the incralac wears quicker in those areas. So our first thoughts were you have to reapply, first of all we applied wax over it to try to create the first barrier, to try to give the incralac the longest life as possible, that’s the first thing. So then we asked for a periodic replacement or reapplication of a wax to try to keep the incralac but knowing that water is going to be hitting certain locations more than others, we also had given them four or five years to reapply that they would have to remove the wax and reapply the lacquer. But we didn’t do any specific testing on how, depending on what area you were, how many to apply. If anybody has any idea it would be great to know.
Unknown: I have an idea. I have a kind of related question. With the VOC regs in place, there’s a solvent borne …
Unknown: …and a waterborne. Which did you use and can you comment? If you used the water borne, can you comment on why?
Viera: Yes, the Incralac as you know is very good and the one that most people propose or like to use but in areas where you have to be BLC compliant you can’t use it because it has the triazole. So there’s another product that’s called Permalac and that’s a waterborne and we’ve been using that with some degree of success as well. It’s called Permalac.
Unknown: Can I ask again of the group, has anyone experience in getting Incralac wet over continuously wet over time and what happens to it adjacent to metal surfaces. I’m not propounding an idea, I’m asking…
Viera: The one thing I can say though is when you’re applying the lacquer, whether its Permalac of Incralac, you see it absorb into the bronze. You know bronze is somewhat permeable and when you have some bronze that’s been sandblasted, you have even more so, so when you apply it you see it basically suck in so we usually apply several coats of it. First of all as I mentioned, it’s the same everywhere but also the fact that it is actually absorbing and that you think that there’s some level within the surface itself that has absorbed the lacquer to some extent.
Unknown: Right, right I think without willing to say yes or no on that or anything, I just wondered if there [not audible] about it. Thanks for discussing it. It’s really good [not audible].
Unknown: Well I [not audible] correct. About ten years ago it just didn’t seem worth the trouble.
Unknown: What situations in general?
Unknown: Yes generally…
Unknown: Did you replace it with something else or just not …
Unknown: Just wax.
Viera: There is just something you have to value. It’s part of a maintenance program. We all have been listening to what, you know how often you have to put a maintenance program in with limited funds available so you want to be able to give something to our clients that will last as much as possible. We’re working on bronze on top of Saint Patrick’s cathedral now. We know we’re never going to get up there again. So just putting wax and telling the client you have to go up there every eight months and apply it, it’s not going to happen because getting there is going to be the problem. So by putting something like a lacquer at least gives it some more protection for an extended period of time.
Unknown: Right, that was the general discussion and like I said I’m not propounding an opinion but I like to hear some discussion. Thank you very much.
Striegel: Thank you.
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.