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
Stiegel: Our next presentation is entitled, Maintenance Maladies – Who is Minding the Fountain and the presenter is Xsusha Flandro. Xsusha is currently working as the Senior Architectural Conservator at Jablonski Building Conservation in New York City. She has a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from Columbia University. Columbia is obviously well represented today. She graduated from Columbia University with a Master’s of Science in Historic Preservation in 2009 and received her Bachelors of Fine Arts and Sculptures and Ceramics from the University of Utah in 2007.
While at JBC, Xsusha has conducted large scale condition assessments, sampling, testing and analysis as well as the development and implementation of conservation treatments for the exterior and interior of 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 with the American Institute for Conservation.
Xsusha: Thank you. Today I’d like to present to you all the story of the Library of Congress Whittall Courtyard fountain and pool. The masonry pool and bronze statue have been victims of numerous well-intentioned but ill-informed maintenance procedures. Just as a visual introduction here are a few images of the pool and the fountain. The fountain sits in an inner courtyard of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building and it is roughly oriented east to west. Located directly across from the U.S. Capital Building, the Library of Congress opened its doors in 1897. Designed in the Italian Renaissance style by architects, Smithmeyer & Pelz, this structure housed the books and references formerly housed inside the Capital Building. When it opened it was described as being the largest, costliest, and safest building in the world. As part of its design it included four interior courtyards to help gain light into the interior portions of the building. The plan of the building is rectangular in nature and by 1930; three of the four courtyards had been filled.
The fountain and pool in question today are located in the northwest courtyard highlighted here in red. In 1925, a donation by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge resulted in the construction of the Coolidge Auditorium. As part of this alteration, a fountain and pool were installed in the courtyard. Only a small, two sentence reference was found indicating its construction. “A concrete pool, approximately 12 feet wide by 36 feet long with a sloping depth from 2 to 2½ feet and lined with frostproof tile and having a coping of limestone was built in the northwest courtyard. This pool, 18 evergreens, and 8 cement benches were purchased from a special fund for the purpose given by Miss Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge” and that statement was published in 1928 and that’s the only record of its construction. There are some early drawings however. This early drawing indicates the slope of the pool, placement of brass pipes and drains, as well as frostproof tile, limestone and concrete. This is an image of the completed pool looking northeast. At some point this picture was taken, we believe in 1927, but it could have been anywhere from 1925 to 1938. And again, another image of the pool and the courtyard.
In 1939 another addition, the Whittall Pavilion, was constructed in the courtyard. Funded by Gertrude Clarke Whittall the new building was designed to house the Stradivari instruments and to hold concerts where the instruments would be played. When the Whittall Pavilion was added the original footprint of the pool was cut in half and the limestone niche was added at one end. A stair was placed on the westend of the courtyard to provide access to the fountain and courtyard. An additional feature was added which was a sculpture designed by Frederick Macmonnies entitled Pan of Rohallion, which was also donated by Mrs. Whittall to the Library of Congress from her private collection. The bronze sculpture with water features was placed in the limestone niche. Here are two images of the pool and fountain at it appears today.
Before going too much further I thought that it would be important to briefly touch on the history of some of the materials that we utilized in this fountain. The tiles in the fountain are frostproof Faience tile believed to be manufactured by the Grueby Faience Company. Handmade Faience tiles were advertised as being frostproof and therefore ideal for exterior work as well as in areas where they were exposed to continual dampness such as swimming pools and public shower rooms. In this slide here, in the image on the left, we see the Faience tiles utilized in the shower room for the pool at Dartmouth College and that’s from 1921.
In a 1922 article on installing Grueby Faience tiles in a pool, suggests that the concrete backing had keys created for the tiles by imbedding galvanized or copper nails in the concrete poured and then the concrete be allowed to cure for 28 days, after which the nails would be bent and the adjacent concrete surfaces scored in preparation for the parge coat. The wall would then be parge coat level using a mortar mix consisting of one part cement to four parts sand. After cured, the tiles were recommended to be set in a bed of mortar consisting of one part cement to two parts sand modified with a waterproofing additive at the rate of two quarts waterproofing to one cubic foot of mortar. The tiles were also recommended to be soaked through in water and just prior to setting in the bedding material, the bedding material would be actually placed on the float itself and then put directly on the parge coat before the tiles were installed.
Here’s a photograph of these frostproof tiles in the Library of Congress fountain and what’s really curious about this is that the reflected color of the tiles changes significantly when it has water in it. They kind of go from a blue-green color to a very kind of fluorescent green, which is quite shocking in this little courtyard. Here’s a photograph of the pool taken in the winter after it was drained and allowed to dry out a little bit.
Next, where did the sculpture come from? Well in 1889, MacMonnies was commissioned by Stanford White to design the Pan of Rohallion for an estate in Rumson, New Jersey. Here’s an image of the family sitting around the fountain leisurely eating their lunch, I guess. An excellent description of the fountain I’d like to read partly because I think it’s funny and this was published in 1913. “In the Pan of Rohallion, the boy stands upon a ball supported by miniature dolphins with which spout their streams of water and looked up as if listening. While he blows two reeds that issue out at a broad angle from his impish mouth, leaning back to inflate his chest until his body describes an arc. It is the attitude of a saucy child that has taken the measure of his little self from the affectionate indulgence that surrounds it. Again, not an antique type nor a rustically impish like a puck but with the engaging elegance and self-consciousness roguery of a certain kind of modern urchin.”
MacMonnies went on to make numerous copies of the sculpture in various different sizes and so there are a whole lot of these. The Pan of Rohallion in the courtyard is one of these later reproductions and it’s stamped and signed by the artist in 1894. The image on your right is one of the same sculptures located at the Palm Beach Garden Reserve in Florida and what we were looking for in particular was this same sculpture that was still being used as a fountain. Several of these are now in museums where they no longer have plumbing actually working in them. Here are two more of the same, one formerly located in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the other in the Atlantic Botanical Garden and then here’s the one that we’re speaking about today.
So the first thing we did was a conditions assessment of all the materials starting with the tile. The tile was actually generally in fair condition with only isolated areas of incompatible repairs, glazed spalls, and replacement tiles. Much of the replacement tiles seemed to come from when the fountains’ foot print was cut in half. There’s also isolated areas of hairline cracking below the limestone coping stones where the joints were open in the limestone. The limestone was in a little bit worse condition than the tile. There were two blocks highlighted here in red that actually had been previously replaced which there isn’t really a record of when they were replaced but they believe it was in the late 1980’s and all of the skyward facing joints and caulked joints have failed. All the mortar joints however were in good condition. There are also large blooms of biological growth as well as heavy metallic staining in and around the niche. The granite pedestal on which the statue stands was in poor condition with numerous previous cementitious repairs. Some of these have failed, some have caused other damage, major cracks were found in the plate portion of the pedestal in which the bronze sits and the pedestal also has surface spalls as well as hard water deposits.
We were not asked to survey the brick wall of the limestone niche, however it could easily be seen that heavy biological growth was present and in some areas as well as prevalent efflorescent blooms. The bronze was actually surveyed twice. Once in the winter and again the following spring so we could assess how the water was flowing through the fountain. We found that the sculpture actually had quite a bit of mechanical damage in the form of cracking of the dolphin tails, one of the reeds was loose and best of all, the statue had a hole drilled through the back of the garland and ferrous bolt attached to a bronze wire which was then attached to the limestone niche. The sculpture also had numerous previous brazing repairs and the ball in which Pan stands was deformed on one side. Some of the dolphin tails had been altered at some point to accommodate new plumbing fixtures. The surface patina was in poor condition with copper chlorides forming at the bottom of the sculpture around the dolphins. Uneven patina formation on much of the front of the sculpture was causing visual disfigurement and only small remnants of a protective coating are left. We did find, if you look on the lower left hand photograph, what we believe was the earliest remaining patina because there are protected areas because of the way this is positioned in the niches. So as part of our recommendation, we recommended that the patina try to be restored by a bronze conservator if possible and if not, matched.
We also surveyed the fountain while it was on and the first thing we noticed was there was absolutely no control on how high the streams of water were coming out of the sculpture. The fountain was being fed just by the building’s supply of water which had uneven pressures at the garden level. So who knows? Maybe someone inside was flushing a toilet and then suddenly the streams are like shooting fifteen feet. Consequently no one sits in this courtyard because you never know when you’re going to get wet. If they did they would stand up on the staircase away from Pan. In addition, the pool didn’t drain correctly so it frequently overflowed causing the death of all border landscaping. We’re assuming that the overflow will also accelerate the deterioration of the caulk. The plumbing was in poor condition and it was difficult to determine where the problems even started. Here’s one of the drains which had been filled with concrete and because the other two drains were located on the same side of the pool they easily clogged with biological debris causing again, the pool to overflow.
Speaking with maintenance personnel about the fountain we found out that the granite pedestal had at some point broke in half, likely in the 1980’s or 1990’s. This had sent Pan flying into the pool. Luckily the pool was full at the time and this cushioned his fall because they came in the next morning and he was lying in the pool. They repaired the pedestal in-house with a concrete mix and Pan was sent offsite to be repaired which we assume is where all the brazed repairs came from and then it was repositioned on the repaired pedestal. More recently when new cracks started forming in the granite pedestal again, that’s when they drilled the hole into the garland on the back of Pan and attached wire to the limestone. They used bronze wire because they knew a little bit about corrosion and knew if they used the same material, but they made the mistake of using a ferrous bolt to attach the bronze wire. The idea was that the wire wouldn’t keep him from falling if the pedestal broke but it would keep him from tilting forward as the pedestal broke.
There are also some records that at some point, the water had been heavily chlorinated similar to residential pool maintenance which would explain some of the efflorescent blooms and copper chlorides which are forming at the base of the sculpture. The water we found had been chlorinated to prevent biological growth on the limestone which apparently was why the two limestone units were replaced in the niches because they couldn’t remove the biological staining that had occurred. So this is an escalating problem.
What we learned from all this was the extreme importance of maintenance monitoring and how periodic monitoring could have prevented the majority of the problems now occurring at this fountain. So as part of the preservation plan for the site we recommended a maintenance program be implemented and that it include a concise maintenance manual. I like to think of it in terms of a car maintenance manual, which has all the crucial information but also tells you when to take the car to a mechanic and if you need it the mechanic can contact the specialist. The manual should include an educational portion where general information is given about each material and what to look for in terms of basic deterioration. An example would be granite and cracking. The manual would also include how to monitor each material, measurements, photographs, checklists as well as how frequently this monitoring is to be completed. An updated contact sheet is to be included in the manual so if some point of concern is observed the correct party can be contacted. One project that we had good results with this sort of program on a smaller scale is the Tenement Museum in New York City where the cleaning personnel are just directed to tell the manager of the museum when they clean up plaster dust and in turn the manager of the museum takes a look at where the plaster dust came from and decides whether or not to call the plaster conservator for further inspection. For this purpose also, general treatment reports issued by a conservator or specialist should be easily accessible in case they are needed for future reference.
For all maintenance procedures to be completed in house, a step-by-step procedure with product data information and any tools required is to be in the manual. For this fountain that would be something like treating the limestone for biological growth perhaps twice a year. At minimum the person in charge of monitoring the fountain should be capable of understanding when a change has occurred which could lead to more catastrophic damage. The plan should easily allow for changes in personnel and while it should be thorough it needs to be concise so that it’s actually used and implemented. For the individual materials, a hierarchy of materials has to be established by the owner, conservator, and specialist involved. So if necessary, the condition of one could be sacrificed to save another. For example in this fountain, we would say that the bronze ranks slightly higher than the granite pedestal because the bronze has more value and meaning to the Library of Congress than the pedestal so it may be necessary to replace the pedestal. Creating this hierarchy may not be as simple as it is in the case of this fountain but is essential to the preservation of fountains as they are meant to be active sculptures. In addition, if at all possible there should be one person who is in charge and monitoring the fountain on a regular basis.
What had occurred at the Library of Congress was that no one really had the job of monitoring the fountain and so it was passively taken care of in terms of interventions only after something had failed and the interventions, while very well intentioned in this case, were not always appropriate and in some cases caused further deterioration of the historic fabric. It is our hope with the strong implementation of a monitoring program and a maintenance manual and a historic preservation plan that the preservation of the fountain and pool will be ensured over time.
I thank you for giving me the time to speak about this fountain and hopefully provided some guidance for our maintenance manuals and also the consequences of what not having one are, so that we can keep Pan and other fine sculptures grounded for the time being. Thank you.
Striegel: Are there questions? Carol.
Carol: Well I’m just curious, I’ve spent a fair amount of time at the Library of Congress and I’ve never seen this sculpture. Is it accessible to the public?
Xsusha: It is no longer accessible.
Carol: It’s no longer?
Xsusha: No longer accessible. It’s now only accessible to employees because this area can only be reached by private elevator and you have to have a special clearance to get into this. So how you can see it however, is go to the stacks facing…
Carol: You’re not allowed in the stacks at the library.
Xsusha: Look for a mysterious bathroom, go down wrong the hallway, but you can see it through some of the windows of the neighboring building.
John: So it’s interesting a couple of times, I think you said that you have observed copper chloride or chlorides. How do you know it was copper chlorides.
Xsusha: We don’t exactly know that that’s exactly what they were but we believe that’s what they are mainly because after doing a little bit of research on bronze disease, we believe that the sort of powdering that we were seeing was caused by contact with chlorides.
John: And did you see kind of massive erosion of the bronze under that, that we expect.
Xsusha: We did on some of the dolphin tails and also on the lettering there it says, “Pan
of Rohallion around the bottom and some of that when you kind of pick at it with like a plastic dental tool it basically falls off.
John: Did you see the progression of corrosion from white when it first developed to a greener color as it becomes a slightly different compound?
Xsusha: I don’t remember seeing that, I do remember seeing some of the white powdering but I’m not so sure about a progression of color within one area of deterioration.
John: I just wanted to raise that because it’s so common for us to mention bronze diseases. Actually the one factor that helps us to get the attention of our clients and so forth. But the actual observation of chlorides on the surface of a bronze is interesting. It is not always there but it should be a major alarm factor.
Xsusha: I mean the one thing I can say is this kind of reminded me of when you see marble deteriorating outside, when it looks okay and then you touch it and you know, you have marble in your hand. And that’s kind of what this appeared to be where it looked okay until you kind of dug into it a little bit and then there was just powdering underneath the surface layer.
John: It sounds terrible. Thanks for your reporting.
Striegel: Other questions? Thank you.
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.