To Do: Migrate

This lecture was part of the Divine Disorder Conference on the Conservation of Outsider Folk art that was organized and hosted by NCPTT. The conference was held February 15-16, 2012 on the campus of Northwestern University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

The Strange Procession That Never Moves


Church:    Alright, now we’re going to turn it over to Martin Johnson. Martin has a BA in Geography, and he’s the Vice President of the Monument Conservation Collaborative. Martin brings his knowledge of soils and ground waters and mapping to MCC. NCPTT has worked with Martin quite a few times at our Cemetery  Conservation workshops and he’s working all over Europe, American Samoa, most of the east coast now on site, so we’re happy to hear about some work he’s doing in Kentucky. I’ll turn it over to Martin.

Johnson:    Thank you. Good morning. I think we could kill the lights or get it to an appropriate level. I have the unenviable task of starting this when everybody’s ready for lunch. However, as Jason just said, I’m Vice President of Monument Conservation Collaborative along with my partner Irving Slavid, restoring primarily historic headstones but occasionally we have to work on a very interesting sculpture and monuments and the like.

What I’m going to talk to you about today is the restoration of the procession that never moves, the Wooldridge Monuments. They are located in Mayfield, Kentucky, far western Kentucky, about twenty miles from the Mississippi River in an area called the Purchase. So when you look at the map of Kentucky and you see a little jog down into what theoretically should be Tennessee, that is the area that we’re talking about here. Mayfield, Kentucky as Marilyn was talking about in terms of community is very real, and the Wooldridge Monuments are really one of the primary attractions to the area. I don’t mean to belittle the area at all, I just mean that people actually go to Mayfield for no other reason than to actually look and see the Wooldridge Monuments.

These are some scans of some older postcards of the area. What they really illustrate is sort of a procession of how they monitored its way aging overtime. You can also see that it’s really quite well shaded with some very beautiful old, as the landscape architects refer to as, specimen trees and in fact one of these specimen trees, you see the shade right there, is the reason why I, along with Irving, got to travel to western Kentucky in the summer of 2010. The last would be a photograph of Walker Evans who was there photographing in the late forties after WW II. You can also see, if I just scoot back, interesting fencing. That fencing is essentially the same as what was in while  Walker Evans, but that is the original fencing.

The Wooldridge Monuments were built in 1892 and finished in 1899 and the Colonel himself is the only person actually buried in this site in the vault right there. The rest of the monuments are essentially statues of his family, his brothers and sisters and nieces along with his dogs and horses and the animals that he loved to hunt. So let’s move forward.

On January 27, 2009, an ice storm hit western Kentucky and for all practical purposes, obliterated the monuments. There was actually only four monuments that were not damaged and in all honesty I would say that only three escaped totally without any harm. There was a slate where damage to one of the other figures that we took care of so I’ll tell you that out of the eighteen figures, we worked on fifteen. So this is the scan from a newspaper clipping, news article, and this is the oak tree which was about a three hundred year old oak tree that in fact the Colonel used to sit under during the construction to watch the monuments being built because he actually was having this beautiful procession built while he was still alive, it started in 1892 and the Colonel himself didn’t die until 1899.

This is the “as found.” This is how we found the monuments. We arrived there at the end of April. We did three, essentially week long trips to the monuments, traveling from [ ? ]. They consisted of a trip in the end of April until early May. We went back then in June and then we did our final trip in the end of July in 2010.

What I would like to draw your attention to if I could, is this is one of the real puzzles that we had to deal with. That’s where the horse’s head was and the angles of this shot is not that great as the other ones, but it is as if a guillotine had come and just severed off the horse’s head at one of the worst angles possible. That sort of illustrates it a little better. You can just see that it’s a clean break along the plane of the carving of the roundness of the head. This is another shot that just shows a different angle, showing the essential destruction and disorganization. The plot itself is approximately seventeen feet wide by thirty-three feet long and that’s not a lot of space, especially when these are really lifelike statues on pedestals and there’s a fair amount of them in that space. Just more photographs showing essentially as it was.

The Department of Public Works of the town of Mayfield did a phenomenal job gathering up the monuments, clearing up the tree and the fallen debris to [ ? ].  However when we got there, we had an understanding to a certain extent but we didn’t know exactly how many pieces and parts they were actually going to have gathered up, how many were going to be missing, and really what we were going to do. So we walked around and the first object of business was really assessing and making a game plan if you will. It was quite a treat.

The three undamaged statues called the “sisters” which were in the back row really had weathered quite well. This image I had it in there because it really points out exactly how the monuments were before we got there, how they were weathering or lack thereof but they actually were weathering quite well. We had a discussion as we went further into the process in terms of cleaning. We obviously do a lot of restoration work in historic cemeteries and often we would do cleaning. We clean when we need to of course but when we go about to do a restoration, let’s say in a cemetery of 400 stones or what not, and we’re tackling fifty stones, agreed to clean the fifty, but the remaining 350 also warranted cleaning.

So in this instance, we did as the slide will show, we actually did do the cleaning and it came out perfect and we felt good about it because the monuments themselves are in a cemetery but yet they are not in the center of the cemetery, although they are surrounded. They really stand off on their own. They’re fenced and they are such a focal point that people actually, as I alluded to, come from all over to actually just go see the monuments.

While we were working on the three separate trips, I guess it was me, I think Irving didn’t want to talk to me one of these times when I encountered a woman from San Francisco, a couple from Italy, and a gentleman from Israel, who all came to western Kentucky to actually see these monuments. They also had no idea that they had been damaged.

This is how we found them again, on our first trip. The Town DPW folks did a really great job and gathered up pretty much all the parts they could possibly find and in the end they did a phenomenal job. We couldn’t thank them enough because all the way down, which was a drive from New England, took us a two day drive in a truck bouncing along, and Irving and I were discussing the possibility of how much reconstruction we were actually going to have to do, what we would find. They really did a great job. There was only one, as I go further in the discussion, there was only one dog essentially that we really had to do some very creative rebuilding on. These are the various parts and all the small fragments. This is the previously mentioned horse’s head and all the rest of the heads, severed legs. They really did a wonderful job.

So the first thing we did after arriving was go to the site and check it out, scratch our heads, and go, “What the heck did we get ourselves into?” Then we went to the DPW and immediately set up a work table and started doing some minor cleaning, and we actually had some old photographs that the town was able to furnish to us and we started doing some, basically any structural adhesion that we could do or that we would need to do offsite before we went onsite. Obviously we used gravity and sandboxes to support the small five minutes that we were able to put together.

Essentially what we found was a large three dimensional jigsaw puzzle, and it was a really big puzzle and really it was a very enjoyable puzzle. So, off we went. This process literally was within about two hours of being onsite. The next day, I should mention that first day, we made calls because when you’re onsite we realized that we needed a crane. So we hired and within a day, from a Dodge Neon which is essentially a sign company which people have already alluded to using in various restoration projects, the Whirlygigs and the one we heard about this morning. Dodge Neon, [ ? ] gentleman Howard is a phenomenal crane operator and so the next day we were able to start with our restoration process.

The other challenge we had, the biggest challenge was where do we start. There’s a very large obelisk and that’s where we started. It was going to be the two largest items to move with the horse and this obelisk. Not in this photo, in putting together this presentation and also in our reports, I often found a gap if you will, where Irving, people that know Irving, I know all of the NCPTT people and myself, we are meticulous in our documentation. On this project we also did what I feel is an excellent job of documentation, but there is certain times when we, just because of the project of us both being so involved in what we were doing, we realized oh hey, we never got a photograph of that. So there is indeed a bit of a lapse and one of the lapses is when we used the crane to bring the horse, the name of the horse is Fop because it’s inscribed on it, back into place. That actually taxed the absolute limit of the crane. The crane couldn’t get this close. It really had to, because we were in a cemetery, it was extended to the point of really maxing it out so it was really quite an ordeal.

[ ? ] there it sits and all of a sudden you’ll see photographs and miraculously it’s back where it should have been. None of us got any photographs of that. So I apologize.  You can see that we are using the crane to lift the figures back onto the pedestals. We used photographs of the postcards and a couple of the old historic photographs to again, place in the puzzle and be able to figure out where things went and how they went.

In this photo you can see that we’ve started the process of doing the structural adhesion to the various heads. In this instance you can see the crane ball and just mixing up some epoxy. The nice thing about a lot of the structural adhesion that we did is that we were able to use gravity, which was brilliant. Where we were not able to use gravity, it became quite a challenge.

This was again, just putting some more mortar. We used the historic lime based mortar to rebuild the obelisk, which was the tallest item in the site and so we really needed to get that done. Also, out of frame, there’s a large telephone pole which had an overhead light on it and the wires were still up and we needed to have that removed before the second trip because the crane wouldn’t be able to operate. So that was one of the things that we had to have attended to.

This is the second day. I’m talking to the mayor of Mayfield, Arthur Byrne, and then Brad Rogers who was the planner of the town if you will and then Howard the crane operator and again we were just talking about the process. You can see the obelisk is standing [ ? ] again, I apologize for the accuracy, you can see the horse is back where it should be and how that happened was really quite stressful.

Again, just basic mortaring, getting things into position. And then came moving the obelisk, I’m sorry, the figures that were in storage at DPW. We had to move them back to site so that we could actually put them back. The DPW guys had taken them off of site, and the reason they had taken them off was I believe, they feared that people were going to come in and pilfer them, which could have been a valid concern. So they really did a great job and they were willing to help us because it was just Irving and myself and without their help, we wouldn’t have been able to do it quite as easily. You see we get strapping, we had a little more of a complicated strapping system when the actual hoisting took place. But during the hoisting, there isn’t a lot of time for photography. It happened and there they are, a lot of them are back in place and you can see that this is the telephone pole, the actual wires are coiled up there, we actually had them removed so that the crane could extend out and we would all survive to live this tale [and tell you about it ].

On the next trip, we started the structural adhesion, dealing out the parts, the legs and another thing on some of the statues were in place. Many of them we actually had to put back into a bunch of pieces. Clean fracture there and then all the parts on this one back here, one leg was standing. This one the torso just, there was no real rhyme or reason to how the breaks happened. It all happened and I should also point out that over the course of the history of the monuments of the 110 years, there were other incidents of some fracturing that had taken place and so we actually had to deal with some older repairs along the way.

Again, more images of the adhesion and the clamping. The vault, which is right there, is the resting spot of the colonel himself. There is actually not that great amount of damage to it except for a large fracture along the top and you’ll see in a future slide how we dealt with that. Clamping, again getting one of the figures ready. It really required us to use tools in ways that stretched the imagination. We had to do various creative clamping on surfaces that weren’t, well where a clamp is going to be very difficult, so we had to be thinking on our feet in terms of how we could get the proper pressure without the clamps sliding off and  without doing damage to the stone. All the stones were Indiana limestone with the exception of the figure of the colonel himself which was Italian marble carved in Italy.  So the stone actually had a very lovely texture [ ? ] rough texture that we facilitated the clamping and strapping and whatnot. Again. more pictures of the stages of the clamping, [ ? ]  used clamps to then clamp from the clamp, boy that’s a lot of words, clamp from the clamp, to get the proper tension without the clamps slipping off.

Then we start dealing with the issue of the horse’s head. How we [ ? ] spend a fair amount of time talking about this one. Just given the severity and the angle of the break, we realized that we really needed to pin it. So we drilled two stainless steel pins, measured to correspond for the holes to be drilled into the horse’s head, and we needed to make the holes slightly larger on the head so, the horse’s head, I know because I lifted it many a time, probably weighed about, around 220, around there, and it was awkward to say the least. You’ll see that in the space, in the confines of the space, erecting a ladder which we did and had to do, was rather a challenge. So typically working in a cemetery, whether it be one stone, occasionally we would get stones that are you know, adjacent, abutting each other within three or four inches but typically we’re not working in a space that really was so confining in that you actually needed to plan out your move three or four steps ahead.

So, here we are drilling and it was rather arduous. We took turns doing it because we had to use a conventional drill, not any type of hammer drill at all. The Indiana limestone was rather tough and the angle of attack was real important to keep it at a precise angle. We then went into the cleaning, we had a day of cleaning and got everything ready and during this process again, it was one of those days that I don’t know why photography didn’t happen, it may have been due to the fact that we’re just really wet and also it was one of these days that being New Englander’s, we’re not completely used to potential tornadic activity or anything like that, not that there was but there were some very severe thunderstorms that either went to the north of us or went to the south of us and it was like whoa, if they hit us, we were into it and we couldn’t really stop so, just one of those objective hazards that you have to deal within the field.

This is one of the older repairs. We need to just remove mortar, get it good and clean, get it ready for the structural adhesion. This is the progression, the figures are being stood up, the torso’s are back on, again, I apologize, I really thought we had more photos of the torso’s being lofted to the air and brought down but it was a rather precise and difficult procedure. As I alluded to the, we did the [ ? ] of the legs on the first trip. The second trip, we are allowing them time to cure so that we have them structurally sound before we put the torso’s on and did it all in the sequence [ ? ] because the crane came and put itself in the same position each time. It was really limited by other gravestones on the site and it could really get to one spot and one spot only.

Again, moving the ladder, getting in position to [ ? ] structural adhesion to the heads and putting them altogether and getting it ready. Just photos of the mangles showing the different views of the monuments as they are getting built. The one cracked, the vault is right there, which we used creative clamping to put that back, you’ll see a photo. This is of the putting the head on the colonel himself, which was one of the most difficult, the ladders looks fairly stable but seeing as that’s me, I can tell you that it really wasn’t but we had no option.

The horse’s head, and you can see that this was the real challenge, clamping and figuring out with the pins how we were going to keep that horse’s head in tension. So Irving and myself used a combination of very large strap clamps and bar clamps and [ ? ] and then underneath the horse’s head, you can just see that there’s some wooden shims and there [ ? ] be another photograph right there of actually shimming up and supporting it with a brace and we left it that way for a time.

What we’re doing here is we drilled a hole into the horse’s head and we [ ? ] grout with plasticized agents, so flowable grout to fill the void because the drilling of the head, as I already alluded to, was larger than the pins itself and to the point that we really wanted to make sure that it was all well sealed and there was no voids left in the head. That’s how the basing looked in terms of [ ? ] the horse. The actual left, left it, you can see and 8 x 8 on a 2 X 4 up to another bunch of shims with two or three, then there were two clamps on either side and we also had another clamp and it seemed to be, it worked very well. But how the hell were we going to do that because it really just wanted to fall.

Also you can see the effects of the cleaning. The monuments really looked good relative to how they were before we got there. That’s just a close up of the basing. Another couple more close ups. That was where we drilled to use the cementous the [ ? ] grout. And so here’s the few other photographs and that’s where we went to in terms of the bracing for the vault itself. We went to American Samoa, which I talked about with Irving a couple of years ago during the break, which we had a month of [ ? ] really wanted the monuments to cure before we went in for the final restoration patches.

This is the one figure that had the missing armatures, the legs were actually missing, we couldn’t find them, so we did a complete rebuild with [ ? ]. We used the stainless steel and then rebuilt the [ ? ] to form the legs and that’s how it came out. And the last step would have been [ ?  ] flooring and the [ ? ] patching, again for whatever reason we don’t have a lot of photographs of Irving and myself doing all the various [ ? ] and crack filling. You see that the horse’s head came out pretty darn nice. The colonel himself and this would be the last how we left the site. You can see that the fencing is all taken away. The town was going to replace the fencing, put a new sign, the offending telephone pole is removed, we’re doing plastic wrapping for the curing, photo’s of the process of just doing the final crack fills, the colonel himself, the site, and that’s the two legs that we really had to reconstruct and that would be on our last trip to the site. This would be our last involvement. The town put in new fencing, new signposts, and unfortunately, I was not able to scan to the quality I wanted to have a final photograph from the final dedication but that would be it. So thank you.


The Wooldridge Monuments are a group of eighteen life-sized sculptures located in Maplewood Cemetery, Mayfield, Kentucky. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they commemorate the life and relatives of Henry G. Wooldridge. Along with the figure of Wooldridge on a horse, there are figures of his brothers, sisters, a deer, two dogs and a fox–all facing East as if in a procession. These limestone monuments were carved in Paducah, KY in 1890-99 and are recognized as important examples of Kentucky folk art Inscribed under the right stirrup of the horse is “Williamson and Co Paducah KY”. In the 1930’s Will Lydon, a sculptor in the firm, claimed he carved 12 of the figures. The limestone base of another figure is inscribed “Pryor and Radford”, a monument firm in Mayfield. A second figure of Wooldridge standing on a pedestal and with more expression than the limestone figures is of marble and was carved in Italy. Within this group is a tall marble and granite stele said to be the first monument erected in the plot.

The significance of the monuments was noted in local publications while Wooldridge was still alive and the carvings incomplete. They were photographed by Walker Evans in 1945. Photographs of the Wooldridge monuments were included in an exhibit and associated catalog of Kentucky folk art (Ellsworth Taylor, Folk Art of Kentucky, 1975). They are visible from Paducah Road (Rte 45), the main roadway into Mayfield; and remain an important local attraction to this day. On January 27, 2009, an ice storm brought down a 300 year old oak tree,and 14 of the sculptures were smashed. All loose fragments were collected and stored by the Mayfield Department of Public Works.Restoration work was done in 3 phases, starting in April 27, 2010. The first phase included the attachment of loose fragments, re-erection of the tall marble and granite monument, the Keziah Wooldridge torso, and the stabilization of the horse monument. For the resetting of the large fragments we were assisted by a local crane company. Also accomplished was the attachment of all of the fragmented feet and legs in preparation of the re-setting of torsos in the following phase. In June, the remaining torsos and heads were attached with structural adhesive; the horse’s head was drilled and pinned and attached with adhesive. All the monuments were lightly cleaned. The last phase, completed in July of 2010, was the attachment of the remaining small fragments of animal feet and legs, and the filling of cracks and losses.

Martin Johnson applies structural adhesive to repair statue’s torso.

All of these monuments are located in the family plot, approximately 33 by 17 feet. Because of the size of the sculptures and their proximity to one another, step-by-step planning was crucial. This presentation will provide details on the planning and execution of the re-erection of the figures; the collection and identification of fragments; the moving and re-setting of larger fragments; and on structural adhesion and infill techniques. It will additionally include a broader discussion of the decision to clean the monuments.


Speaker Biography

Martin Johnson, Vice President, Monument Conservation Collaborative

Martin Johnson teaching at a NCPTT cemetery course.

Martin has a BA in geography, thereby bringing a practical knowledge of soils, ground water, and mapping to the MCC team. Since 2004, Martin has gained hands-on experience in all aspects of monument conservation, having worked at more than thirty-five sites throughout New England, New York, Kentucky, Florida as well as in American Samoa. As project manager, he organizes the sequencing of the restoration as well as preservation. On site, he oversees and is directly involved in cleaning, resetting, adhesion, patching and chemical consolidation. He has been an instructor at the NCPTT cemetery training workshops. He has gained extensive knowledge and skills in working with local, state and national government agencies, while serving as the chairman of the Inlands Wetlands Commission of Norfolk CT for more than 10 years.

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