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MICA Preserves Statues in Main Building Court

Interdepartmental Project Allows Community to Observe Conservator’s Work in Action

Posted 07.22.09 by MICA Media Relations

Conservation work on Theseus (or Dionysus)

BALTIMORE-In June, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) continued its conservation program for the 19 sculptures on the first and second levels of the Main Building court, a focal point of the campus, by treating a second plaster cast made from the Elgin marbles. The project--an interdepartmental collaboration among students, faculty and staff in the art history, exhibitions, sculpture, drawing and photography departments--began in November 2008 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this historic building.

"While preserving an important part of the Main Building, this project offers a learning opportunity for the entire College community by allowing its members to observe an art conservator's work first-hand," MICA President Fred Lazarus said.

Diane L. Fullick of Fullick Conservation LLC--who has assessed and treated sculpture, archaeological artifacts and decorative arts in more than 10 major museums and private collections in the Baltimore area--has begun the restoration process, which includes using a HEPA vacuum and soft brushes to eliminate dust and loose debris, removing paint, filling gaps and crevices, and repainting. The project also includes developing proper lighting for each sculpture as well as creating informational material through labels and possibly a floor plan or catalog.

Bryan Connor '11, a graphic design major, created a booklet of the sculptures in a class assignment. "Knowing the back stories of the casts, their mythological importance and the history of their creation has helped me connect with the otherwise anonymous figures lining the Main Building," Connor said. "The restoration project is an excellent opportunity to take pride in the appearance of these casts while simultaneously educating the student body and the general public why they should care about them."

The Main Building holds 13 plaster, four marble and two bronze statues from the Peabody Art Collection and MICA's collection, mostly referencing Greek mythological or ancient historical figures. The first two casts undergoing treatment are of the Elgin marbles, a collection of Parthenon sculptures housed in the British Museum in London that was gathered between 1799 and 1803 by Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin and Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at that time. Caryatid, the first piece to be restored, depicts a maiden from the south porch of the Erechtheion (421 and 407 B.C.), on the Acropolis. The second plaster cast, often called Theseus by 19th- and early 20th-century sources, is probably a sculpture of the Greek god Dionysus. The original was part of the east pediment of the Temple of Athena Parthenos, the Parthenon (438-432 B.C.).

"The Elgin marbles, like many classical and Renaissance sculptures, were replicated in plaster as an economical alternative to marble and bronze copies and were used in the 19th and early 20th centuries in various ways, such as decorating private and public buildings, augmenting museum collections and serving as teaching tools at colleges and universities," said Joseph J. Basile, a faculty member in the department of art history.

Several of the sculptures were ordered from a catalogue by P.P. Caproni and Brother, called Catalogue of Plaster Reproductions from Antique, Medieval and Modern Sculpture: Subjects for Art Schools. Other statues include Sleeping Children in marble by neoclassical sculptor William Henry Rinehart and works by two of MICA's Rinehart School of Sculpture directors, an angelic figure in marble by William Marks Simpson '28 and Rose, a jester in bronze by Ephraim Keyser.

"The MICA casts were acquired for the purpose of art education, which, in the early 20th century, focused largely on drawing, painting and modeling from nature as well as from the Old Masters, including casts of classical sculptures," Basile said.

The statues have served as models for tens of thousands of drawings as well as teaching and research tools about Western cultural history for drawing, sculpture, art history and graphic design classes.

As tastes changed in the 20th century, many artists shifted their attention to contemporary art movements, such as abstract expressionism and pop art. Interest in the mythological sculptures faded as MICA went through a period of modernization, and they temporarily receded to the background.

Today all of the statues, once again fully recognized for their historical and artistic value, need cleaning, and many also require special conservation treatment, often due to being moved or bumped during their long-time presence in public areas.

After completing the restoration project, these somewhat worn, discolored pieces will be transformed and clearly identified so they can better offer inspiration and information to MICA students and visitors.

"I believe this represents the beginning of an ongoing process aimed at preserving and celebrating the College's rich history," said Raymond Allen, vice president for academic affairs and provost.

The casts from the Peabody Art Collection, an Official Project of Save America's Treasures and managed by the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property (MdCAP) of the Maryland State Archives, were loaned to MICA after the College's Marketplace Building and collections were destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

For more information, call 410-225-2300.

Conservation work on Theseus or Dionysus, plaster, late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Peabody Art Collection (an Official Project of Save America's Treasures, managed by the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property [MdCAP] of the Maryland State Archives), photo by Jonathan Trundle '06.

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 52 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. With art and design programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.