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

Red Jacket: Sculpture Conservation Treatment in Forest Lawn Cemetery by Francis Miller

Forest Lawn Cemetery, founded in 1850, is a 269 acre “Rural Cemetery” listed on the National Register of Historic Places The grounds contain a spectacular array of sculptures and monuments memorializing notable industrialists, merchants, financiers, politicians and members of society. Beyond the Delaware Avenue gates, lies a unique plot that contains a simple row of grave markers commemorating eight Seneca Native Americans. Behind the row of markers, is a granite monument with a crowning, 11’ 6’’ bronze sculpture of the Native American, Red Jacket.

Red Jacket (c.1750-1830), was a prominent and influential Native American Seneca chief that lead his Nation through a tremulous period in history. Known as Otetiani in his youth, he was later called Sagoyewatha, “ he who keeps them awake”, for his skillful orations. He also took the name Red Jacket for the ornately embroidered coat given to him by the British for his aid in the Revolutionary War. After British defeat, the Seneca chief led delegations to the United States capitol in Philadelphia on behalf of the Seneca and Six Nations of the Iroquois League, where he gained admiration from the president, George Washington. Washington later commissioned and gifted a large silver medal in honor of their meeting.

The heroic scale likeness of Red Jacket, sculpted by James G. C. Hamilton, was cast by Bureau Brothers Foundry of Philadelphia in 1891. Wearing ethnic clothing and Washington’s silver, the bronze figure endured nearly 120 years of harsh environmental exposure with little, to no preservation efforts. The bronze surfaces had lost all signs of original patina and were visually disfigured by contrasting corrosion compounds. Years of industrial pollution exposed the copper alloy to acidic deposition that caused significant surface loss and deep pitting. Failed foundry fills at cast joints allowed excessive water entry into the hollow interior. Additionally, the entire sculpture had drifted precariously to the back, proper left, likely due to prevailing Lake Erie winds, and was resting 3/16” over the 15’ high, Westerly, Rhode Island granite base.

ConservArt LLC conserved the sculpture in 2010. The bronze surfaces were cleaned and loose corrosion compounds removed by medium pressure water. The failed fills were removed mechanically and new fills of lead and bronze rich epoxy inserted and tooled to conform the bronze sculpture contours and textures. The green appearance was preserved and the disfiguring appearance reduced by the application of thin Cupric Nitrate patinas. The final surfaces were treated with a acrylic based, clear, protective coating.

Borescopic examination revealed no anchor system and that the sculpture had been free standing since it’s original instillation in 1891. In collaboration with the Forest Lawn Group President, Joseph P. Dispenza, and the fabricators and engineers of International Chimney Corporation, an unique 316 grade, stainless steel, anchor system was designed that distributed the load of the bronze away from the outer edges of the granite base and prevented shifting in any direction. The sculpture was lowered to the ground by crane, the anchor system installed to fit the exact contours of the bronze, and Red Jacket safely returned and secured for continued viewing.

It was an honor to treat this historic monument, the first and last to be treated without a site visit, and an honor to be present during the rededication ceremony lead by New York State Assembly member Sam Hoyt, who secured a grant for the conservation efforts. It was also a great privilege to be present during the blessing of the site by Al Parker, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca and relative of Red Jacket and Ely Parker. Our fortunate timing literally saved this remarkable sculpture from the edge of catastrophe.

Speaker Bio

Francis Miller is the principal of ConservArt LLC, Hamden, CT, with a BA in sculpture from the University of California, Davis (1984), and an MFA in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1992). The dedication to conservation was recognized by the awarded title of Professional Associate by the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), in 1999. Mr. Miller has 22 years of conservation experience treating monuments, sculptures and historic cemeteries.

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One Response to Red Jacket: Sculpture Conservation Treatment in Forest Lawn Cemetery

  1. Michael Grando says:

    Congratulations to all who made this preservation of this important part of our Nation’s history !

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