This talk is part of the Fountain Fundamentals Conference July 10-11, 2013, Kansas City, MO.
Maintenance Maladies-Who is Minding the Fountain?
By Mary Jablonski and Xsusha Flandro
Teetering on a worn granite pedestal and strung up by picture wire, an 1894 bronze MacMonnies Pan of Rohallion sculpture fountain sits within the protected courtyard pool of the Jefferson Building at The Library of Congress. Installed outdoors in 1939, the bronze fountain and masonry pool has been victim to several well intentioned but ill-informed maintenance procedures. Lack of periodic monitoring resulted in the sculpture falling forward into the adjoining pool. Subsequent inappropriate repairs occurred. Chlorination was added to the pool water and the fill line for the pool was set higher. Deterioration was incremental and barely noticed until of course it was significant.
In 1925 Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge donated money to The Library of Congress (LOC) for the construction of the Coolidge Auditorium, which lead to the alteration of the northwest courtyard. The pool was installed as part of the courtyard alteration. In 1939 Gertrude Clark Whittall funded the Whittall Pavillion. This campaign modified the original footprint of the pool to half its size, added a staircase on the east end of the pool, and installed the Pan of Rohallion fountain, which was also donated by Whittall.
The LOC Pan of Rohallion fountain sculpture is one of many located across the United States giving JBC the rare opportunity to photographically compare the condition assessment findings of the LOC Pan of Rohallion fountain to its identical copies, some of which had been differently maintained and situated.
This paper will discuss how monitoring as well as maintenance procedures are important elements for any historic preservation plan for historic fountains. Fountains are often complex, with a variety of materials that can require completely different maintenance procedures. As a lack of general fountain knowledge will result in damage to a historic fountain, the maintenance plan must educate the client/owner and maintenance personnel with general information on how to monitor their historic fountain. The historic preservation plan should provide an understanding of maintenance, with explanations clearly outlined, detailed with products and step-by-step procedures for each task, as variety of personnel are likely to complete the more routine tasks. The plan should also provide a clear understanding of who is to perform the monitoring, what their qualifications are to be, and how frequently monitoring is completed. The monitoring procedures should allow for a change in personnel and a consistency of what is checked each time the fountain is examined. At minimum this qualified person must be capable of understanding when a significant change has occurred that can lead to damage.
Fountains are constantly changing. Whether it is the environment; new regulations regarding water; maintenance personnel; or even a small, seemingly inconsequential adjustment of increasing the water level; any alteration affects the fountain. As these modifications multiply, the fountain can deteriorate with potentially irreversible damage. However, incorporating monitoring of the historic fabric into a preservation plan can significantly reduce the chances of maintenance maladies from occurring.
Mary Jablonski is currently the Principal/Conservator at Jablonski Building Conservation. She has a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from Columbia University’s Historic Preservation Program. For five years Mary worked at a structural engineering firm that specialized in the restoration of historic structures. The focus of her current work includes: historic structure reports; historic material investigations; compliance with landmarks regulations; development of technical treatment specifications. Mary has special interests in finishes and modern materials. Ms. Jablonski is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC).She is a past Chair of the Architecture Specialty of Group of the AIC. Mary currently sits on the board of APTNE and serves as an ex-officio Board Member of US ICOMOS.
Xsusha Flandro is currently working as a senior architectural conservator at Jablonski Building Conservation (JBC) in New York City, NY. Flandro has a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from Columbia University’s Historic Preservation Program. She graduated from Columbia University with a Master of Science in Historic Preservation in 2009, and received her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Sculpture and Ceramics from the University of Utah in 2007. While at JBC Flandro has conducted large-scale conditions assessments, sampling, testing and analysis as well as development and implementation of conservation treatments for interior and exterior architectural materials. Special interests include architectural metals, early aluminum architecture, glazed polychrome terracotta and early uses of building material testing procedures. Xsusha is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works.