This talk is part of the Fountain Fundamentals Conference, held July 10-11, 2013, Kansas City, MO.

Fountain Conservation-California Style by Andrea Morse

Video Transcription

Hello, my name is Andrea Morse, I’m principal conservator of the Sculpture for Conservation Studio in Los Angeles.  Today my presentation will introduce you to the styles, some history and fountain problems that one can encounter when living in southern California.  I am dividing my presentation into three sections; one, historic fountains and their problems, two architectural fountains or fountains used as part of the historic architecture of a building or site, three, fountains that are used to enhance the area that the public uses or frequents.

The oldest fountains Sculpture Conservation studio has worked on is at La Purisima Mission in Lompoc, California.  This mission dates to 1787, this mission has been fully restored to its original layout and use having animals, a functional chapel and still celebrating holidays and traditions of the Chumash Indians.  Many school children visit here when studying missions.  The Lavanderia is a functioning fountain basin where the Indian women living on the mission would come and wash their clothes.  It is still used today for ceremonies twice a year.

At the end of the Lavanderia was a grotesque face where the water from underground pipes which led to a nearby stream would come out of the mouth of the face and fill the basin.  The fountain heads were made of sandstone and through the years the faces have deteriorated extensively.  One could no longer make out any of their features.  Sculpture Conservation Studio removed each fountain head.  Brought it back to their studio and made a clay mold around the existing head but gave it features as it originally appeared.  A mold was made from the clay and a cast was created using Cathedral Stone Jahn M70 with matching pigments.  The pipes that came out of the mouth were checked for water flow.  The water flowed well in one but the other one only dripped water unless the first one was capped as the earlier slide showed.  After close examination it was found that someone, probably a school child, pushed a marble up into the pvc pipe which was stopping the flow of water.  After cutting and replacing the pipe the water flowed again into the Lavanderia.

At Grant Elementary School in Riverside, Ca. there is a cast iron fountain made in 1896 for this mission revival style school.  There was an earthquake in 1933 and the school was demolished but the fountain still remains as a reminder of the first school on this front lawn.  In 1971 the fountain was taken apart and was fully cleaned of all corrosion.  By 2009 the fountain barely functioned and had Koi fish swimming in the pond.  The fountain was taken apart and the pieces were cleaned of corrosion, algae and minerals.  The section that covered the motor was recast and the fountain was painted in its original color white and installed back in the pond without the Koi.

Spirit of the Ocean is sandstone carving by Ettore Caldorin and a fountain in front of the old Santa Barbara Court House.  It dates back to 1927 and was carved out of stone from a local quarry.  The water comes out of the dolphin’s mouth which always caused mineral deposits forming under the spout and along the rim of the sculpture.  It was discovered that the sandstone was carved along the grain and was therefor slowly deteriorating.  Around 1980 a conservator, not me, decided to preserve the sculpture by covering the top half of the figures with cement which then caused the sandstone to crumble behind the cement.  The lower half continued to deteriorate and was conserved once a year.

In 2010 a person dropped some books from the courthouse bell tower and broke the decorative crown on the dolphin’s head.  Which you can see a piece of the crown sitting on top of the dolphin’s head.  Finally the city decided to recarve the entire sculpture using lasers and sandstone from a local quarry in 2011.

The deterioration of the sandstone had extended to the back wall and the side sandstone blocks and spikey plants were also used to keep children away from climbing on it.

Electric Fountain photo by Lisa Newton

Electric Fountain photo by Lisa Newton

Tiles, especially colorful ones, are very prevalent in California fountains.  Usually they are very easy to maintain.  This is the story of the water damaging the artistic works of a fountain.  This fountain was designed by Ralph Carlin Flewelling and the sculpture was by Gage (Robert Merrell Gage).  The fountain is located at the south west end of Beverly Hills and was erected in 1931.  It was named the “Electric Fountain” because of its wonder lights and water timed to change in eight-minute sequences.  It depicts the rich history of California with the various scenes from early settlers to more modern times around the basin and a Tongva Gabrielino Indian at the top.  Whose native tribe lived on this land before it was developed by the Spanish in 1781.  The water flows out of his hands into the pool.  Hand made tiles around the pool have deteriorated through the years because of chlorinated spray off of the water over the tiles.

Sculpture Conservation Studio had to conserve the hand spout because the flow of the water had caused it to crumble.  It was cleaned – the basin was cleaned to all mineral deposits and conserved and tiles were either remade or conserved around it.

The Doheny fountain is a typical Spanish style park fountain with colorful tiles, soteal pavers and a decorative color central element.  This fountain is at the other end of Beverly Hills.  Because it is a popular place for people to come the glazed tiles and pavers became damaged.  The central core of the fountain was either covered in mineral deposits from the water or cracked and damaged by corroded rebar.  The base was repaired and cleaned mechanically of all minerals and the tiles were conserved with Edison products.

Architectural Fountains

This is a historic 1930s tile fountain from the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.  This is one of the oldest and most historic theaters in Hollywood.  When Netherlander brought the play “Lion King” to this theater much conservation/restoration work was performed.  The original drinking fountain had a back splash of historic tiles with a faux painted drinking basin with inlaid tiles.  The hard water in the drinking fountain had created a horrible white haze on the tiles around the basin and in the black sink.  Previous restoration also included old poorly matched tiles.  The faux painting was chipped with many loses of paint.  The entire fountain was conserved.  Tiles were replaced and then moved to another area to make room for a larger ladies bathroom which is always useful in a theater.

Fountains from the Alcazar Gardens in Balboa Park in Sand Diego are prevalent.  This garden is one of many of the gardens in Balboa Park.  The gardens were patterned after the gardens of Alcazar castle in Seville Spain.  It replicates a 1935 design with tile star shaped fountains box wood hedges and tile benches.  Because of the low walls on the fountain kids have found them perfect for skateboarding on and chipping and breaking all of the other tiles and also tiles at the bottom of the benches had been cracked and broken from previous use.  All tiles were conserved by Sculpture Conservation Studio with color match Edison.

The Mission Inn is a quirky hotel in Riverside California.  The owner, Frank Miller, would love to go around the world in the early 1900s and buy all sorts of architectural elements to decorate the patio facades and even the rooms of the hotel.  In this patio was placed bronze Putti Fountain.  Neglect caused thick mineral deposits on both the interior and exterior of the bowl.  Mineral deposits on the decorated cast concrete base and blue green corrosion all over the Putti.  The bowl and base were mechanically conserved with scalpels and wooden sticks.  The Putti was conserved, corrosion was reduced to a minimum and then hot waxed.  While working on the basin it was discovered that the floor of the pool was originally a green concrete.  This, like the hotel, is a constant ongoing project.

Decorative Fountains in California enhance apartment complexes, malls and public venues such as airports, zoos and universities.  This is a low income housing project in the city of Pasadena and it had a decorative fountain in the courtyard livened up a very dull cement space.  The fountain is in the form of a colorful tile relief wall and pool.  The water came from the top of the wall, down the wall and into the pool.  It was a beautiful decorative piece until large piece of the ceramic tile started falling off of the wall after about a year.  Sculpture Conservation Studio was hired to find out why the tiles were separating off the wall, who was responsible and we were to become the contact with the artist to decide what tiles should be remade and what tiles could be conserved.  After much research it was discovered that the liner was not properly installed by the pool company causing the tile adhesive to be constantly wet and deteriorate.

Airports are creating more art spaces in their public areas these days.  The San Diego Airport has a large fountain inside Terminal Two that appears like rows of seaweed coming out of a pond with jet sprays and sea animals swimming around them.  The sculpture, especially the delicate leaves of the kelp strands accumulated large amounts of dust and dirt.  The bronze animals and fish had blue green corrosion.  The base of these strands were full of thick white minerals.  Sculpture Conservation Studios scaffolded the entire sculpture to clean and wax all of the leaves and individual animals and fish.  The base of the seaweed was mechanically conserved of all minerals.

Sometimes there are not happy endings for fountains.  This is an outdoor mall in downtown Fresno California which was once a bustling mall.  As the city expanded people went to malls outside the downtown area to shop.  The city tried to revitalize the mall by a string running through the center section with architectural designs around the string.  Twelve large pieces of outdoor fountains were placed around the mall but the artwork was neglected and soon became unsightly.  Sculpture Conservation Studio was hired to conserve the sculpture.  The bronze statues were fairly normal conservation maintenance but the fountains and art in the fountains were a disaster.  Here is a crane in the middle of a fountain that was totally covered with corrosion but also totally covered with mineral deposits from the jet sprays.  A Claire Falkenstein sculpture also suffered heavy corrosion and minerals which took off the patina when mechanically conserved.  The George Tsutakawa Fountain took on a whole new rainbow of colors from the thick iridescent minerals over the Japanese ink patina.  Unfortunately the city did not want to pay for the conservation restoration of the fountains so this work was never completed.

My last example is a typical outdoor mall in sunny Santa Monica.  These topiary fountains are not only unusual but entertaining for the children.  But even topiaries that have bronze heads and spikes need to be maintained or they become covered with blue green corrosion from the saline environment.  Although California has good weather year round we still have our share of problems when maintaining fountains of all shapes and sizes.

Thank You.



This presentation will describe various types of fountains that Sculpture  Conservation Studio (SCS) has dealt with throughout the years.   Many fountains in California were made to represent a unique geographical location in the history of the State, some are purely state of the art architectural decoration in front of buildings, schools and gathering places,  while others were functional architecture when they were constructed.  Many historic fountains have decorative tiles in and around the basins, with Mexican Soltio tiles functioning as steps around the fountain. Others are pot metal, cast-iron and other metals or simply cast concrete or sandstone.  Some were state of the art run by electricity, while others have water piped in with clay pipes from a river to use for washing.  Some fountains are living landscapes, and others function just for drinking.

Decorative features always exist in California fountains, whether a statue/ sculpture on top of the fountain, statues holding up the basin,  or sculpture forming the fountain spout.  Some have elaborate tile decoration as the fountain, while others have metal elements creating the fountain or the entire fountain represented as an animal.
All fountains, whether indoors or outside,  contain water features, although many were no longer functioning when SCS was asked to conserve/restore them.  With water features usually follows calcium deposits, and with calcium deposits come problems.

This presentation will give the audience an insight to the decorative and functional history of California fountains. I will be discussing certain forms fountains take, materials that make up fountains, and basic water problems encountered with fountains.

Speaker Bio

An AIC Professional Associate since 1994, Ms. Morse has over 25 years of conservation experience with an emphasis on public art, historic preservation, and museum surveys. From 1975 to 1993, she was a member of the conservation staff at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Department of Objects Conservation.

In 1993, Ms. Morse opened a private conservation practice and joined Sculpture Conservation Studio as President and Principal Conservator in 1997. Since then, she has overseen the majority of the studio’s surveys and projects, specializing in the large-scale outdoor sculpture projects. While at SCS, the studio has been awarded over a dozen SOS! Grants to assess public art projects in California and Hawaii.

Since 1998, Ms. Morse helped initiate and continues to participate in the Public Art Committee Panel, a program between City of Los Angeles Department of Public Art, conservators, and the public. Ms. Morse has written and co-authored numerous conservation papers and regularly lectures on public art and conservation as a means of raising awareness of conservation issues in the public sector.