At first glance, the bronze statues of a runner and a discuss thrower on the steps of the Newton H. White Athletic Center at Homewood appear to be splattered with an aqua-blue paint. But what appears to be the act of vandals is actually the corrosive effect of years of acid rain, vehicle emissions and other environmental factors. Likewise, the 10 other outdoor sculptures on the Homewood campus and at Evergreen House similarly have been degraded by years of wear and neglect.
The future for these works of art, however, is looking bright.
The university has recently hired a conservation firm to clean up these sculptures and return them to their "just out of the foundry" condition. Work is already under way and nearly completed on the statues of Daniel Coit Gilman and William H. Welch that flank the entrance to Shriver Hall, as well as on the bust of Isaiah Bowman under the building's portico.
Cindy Kelly, curator of Evergreen House and of university collections, said that, unlike the city-owned Johns Hopkins monument on Charles Street, which is periodically waxed and treated, the university's sculptures have never really been cared for.
"It's kind of like never having waxed your car," Kelly said. "They need to be protected."
The effort is being undertaken by Steven Tatti, president of S.A.T. Inc., a New York-based sculpture conservation firm.
Kelly said it will take weeks to restore some of these works because they first have to be washed by pressurized water, then treated with a mild abrasive and finally given hot and cold wax treatments. In the case of the bronze statues, Kelly said that some will have to be repatinated as acid rain has reacted with the bronze to form a blue discoloration.
"They are losing metal, and even though it's a long process, over time it's very disfiguring, and it detracts from the visual impact of these pieces," Kelly said. "They all have much value as artistic and historical documents, and we should care for them. I'm delighted to have this work being done."
Kelly said other sculptures will be conserved as money