Conservation Treatment of Public Art
Head of the Baron DeKalb statue on the grounds of the Maryland State House showing the ravages of time.
Photograph by Christopher N. Allan
Maryland can claim a fine collection of military monuments which range from simple bronze tablets to grand works of sculpture. In order to preserve these memorials for future generations, the Monuments Commission enlists professional conservators to evaluate their condition, to design and implement appropriate plans to clean, repair and maintain them, and to document all work. The Commission follows the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and the Code of Ethics of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
Stone and bronze are affected by weather, soiling and atmospheric pollutants. In urban and industrial areas stone may develop crusts and stains and bronze may become pitted and uneven. The fragility or durability of stone varies widely according to type. Bronze sculptures and tablets in an outdoor environment are exposed to particulates in the atmosphere which settle onto the surfaces and eventually corrode them. Bronze corrosion may form streaks of light green and black following water runoff patterns over the surface of a sculpture. Some monuments have suffered from over-zealous cleaning or use of inappropriate methods and products, which can cause more damage than generations of weather.
Baron DeKalb statue on the grounds of the Maryland State House as conservators clean the monument
Photograph by Nancy Kurtz
While each monument must be evaluated for appropriate treatment, in most cases conservators have implemented a program of gentle cleaning of the stone and bronze components followed by the application of wax to the bronze surfaces. The wax darkens the bronze, provides a uniform color and offers protection from the elements. Because wax is a maintainable and economical bronze treatment, the Commission has established a routine of washing and wax touch-up approximately every three years. This maintenance program serves to enhance and ensure the continued preservation of our monuments as memorials to Maryland's military history and to the service of our veterans.
Park personnel demonstrate cleaning and waxing of bronze plaque
on the Maryland State Monument at Antietam National Battlefield.