This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, April 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.

Nationwide Monument Conservation at National Cemeteries: Planning, Management, and Treatment Implementation by Sara Johnson

There are 131 National Cemeteries across the United States that, in addition to the government-furnished headstones of soldiers and veterans, contain monuments commemorating various events, individuals, military units, battles, etc. Conservation Solutions holds a contract with the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) for preservation of some of these monuments. The contract involves treatment of 72 monuments in 28 National Cemeteries spread across 15 states. Most of the monuments that Conservation Solutions has been contracted to conserve were erected during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Broadly, the scope of work has encompassed maintenance and conservation of historic masonry and statuary in bronze and zinc. All had received previous treatments of greater or lesser sensitivity and were identified by the client as having current treatment needs. Beyond the challenge of implementing best practice treatments on a broad range of materials, additional issues exist in the planning and logistics of coordinating such a large-scale project over a vast geographic area with a limited time frame. To that end, this paper will focus on the strategic planning, management, and implementation of cemetery conservation on a national scale.

The NCA has developed a protocol for monument preservation projects that involves the input of multiple conservators throughout the different phases of assessment, development of treatment recommendations, implementation and post-treatment quality control and documentation. This approach incorporates a number of different perspectives and allows for on-going peer review to achieve the most successful results. It also presents challenges, as conservators of different backgrounds often have varying ideas of treatment approaches and goals. State Historic Preservation Officers also weigh in on the scopes often with their own different preferences and perspectives.

Aside from the model established by the NCA, Conservation Solutions has had to establish its own internal methodology for effectively keeping the project on track and meeting the goals of the NCA. This began with finalizing a scope of work for each monument. Each was reassessed to confirm conditions from previous reports. Adjusting variation in conditions or treatment goals required effective communication and a continuous dialogue about client expectations and aesthetic preferences, such as the appropriate level of cleaning for masonry monuments or the desired coloration of a bronze sculpture or plaque. It was important to establish a balance between conservation and restoration, preserving as much original material as possible while still meeting the exacting aesthetic requirements of the NCA. In addition to coordination with the client, the project required extensive coordination with individual cemetery directors, of CSI staff and subcontractors, and of materials as we were nearly continuously mobilized at cemeteries from Pensacola, Florida to San Francisco, California over the course of one year.

A project of this scale inherently comes with a number of challenges. One of the greatest has been implementing treatments in a way that ensures quality control and consistency, particularly when working with multiple subcontractors and technicians under tight time constraints. It was extremely important to provide adequate oversight and direction, even when working at numerous sites simultaneously. Another challenge has been dealing with previously unidentified conditions that were discovered after mobilization and required a change in scope, sometimes quite extensive. A great degree of flexibility was required for dealing with these unforeseen circumstances, and resolving them in a way that was satisfactory to the client, which was greatly helped by having an experienced and knowledgeable client. Finally, there were challenges associated with working around on-going burials and memorial events in a safe and respectful manner.

This paper will present examples of the range of treatments over the many locations, discuss the solutions that were developed with the client, and present the results of the work.

Speaker Bio

Sara Johnson is an Assistant Conservator with Conservation Solutions and works in all aspects of historic conservation work, including research, condition assessments, conservation treatments, construction management, and materials testing and analysis. Before joining Conservation Solutions in 2012 she worked as an architectural conservator at Meadors Inc. in Charleston, SC, where she oversaw the establishment of an architectural conservation department and conservation laboratory. In graduate school, Sara interned at the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust where she worked on a variety of conservation projects and performed finishes analysis and archival research on historic buildings in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Sara holds a MS in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Historic Preservation from the College of Charleston.

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