Conservation and Care of Texas A&M’s Memorials and Statues

Text by Lynn C. McDaniel, Communications Specialist for the University Art Department

Photos by John Peters, Audio Visual Specialist, Texas A&M College of Architecture
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tamuarchcollege/sets/72157631913765957/

One of the duties tasked to the University Art Department is the care, preservation  and cleaning of the majority of  statues and memorials on campus, at least once per year.  Friday, November 2nd, our department set out to care for the Bonfire Memorial.

The Bonfire Memorial is a tribute to the twelve students who lost their lives, as well as the 27 who were injured, on November 18, 1999 when the bonfire stack they were building collapsed.  The bonfire had been a tradition at Texas A&M since 1909, as a pep rally before each year’s football game against the University of Texas.  The collapse of the bonfire stack, and the ensuing deaths and injuries, were devastating events that marked the end of the bonfire tradition on campus.

Designed by Former Students at the San Antonio-based architectural firm Overland Partners, the Bonfire Memorial was dedicated November 18, 2004.  The memorial is constructed of gray Chinese granite and bronze, and, from conception to completion, took 4 years to build.  One year after its dedication, Overland Partners received an Award of Honor from the San Antonio Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Prior to any on-campus art conservation effort, UART sends out requests to students, asking for volunteers from student organizations.  Volunteers sign up for one-hour shifts starting at 9:00 am, and work until the cleaning is finished.  Some students receive extra credit or service credits, while others are simply proud to volunteer to help conserve and protect the memorial out of respect for those who lost their lives.

Students first wash the bronze panels, top to bottom, using a mild soap and water, then rinse and dry them thoroughly.  The original bronze was colored and protected using a technique called patination, which has been used by artists in all cultures for many centuries.  Patinas, the root of patination, form naturally on metal objects as a result of corrosion, but the art of patination has been developed both to give sculptures that “weathered” look and to protect the artwork from corrosion.  Our conservation efforts strive to safeguard the protective patina, thereby further shielding the artwork.  The original artists’ patina usually serves to protect an outdoor sculpture for an average of five to ten years, depending on exposure and climate, with little or no elemental damage.  With good conservation efforts however, damaged can be controlled for many more years.

Unfortunately, after 8 years of exposure to the Texas sun, wind, rain and the spray of the sprinkling system, three of the Bonfire portals, in particular, are showing excessive pitting and corrosion.   Student volunteers carefully applied wax to the bronze, spreading it thinly and making sure to get it into every crack and crevice, paying particular attention to pitted or damaged areas.  Once the wax dried, students used elbow-grease to buff the bronze to a smooth, protective shine.  The portals showing the worst damage received additional coats of wax for more protection.  The Chinese granite requires little more than to be swept and given a simple wash with water.

The University Art Department works diligently to ensure that the statues and memorials on the Texas A&M campus will be available for our students’ enjoyment, as well as to commemorate those to whom they  were dedicated, for many years to come.  No matter where you live, you probably have statues and memorials in your town, on your campus or in some public place nearby.  We invite you to stop, look and really appreciate those works of art, and to remember those who work to maintain their integrity.  We also invite you to come and visit the Bonfire Memorial at Texas A&M University, and to remember the 12 who lost their lives that terrible night:  Miranda Adams, Christopher Breen, Michael Ebanks, Jeremy Frampton, Jamie Hand, Christopher Lee Heard, Lucas Kimmel, Bryan McClain, Chad Powell, Jerry Self, Nathan Scott West and Tim Kerlee, Jr.

For more information, click the links below:

1.)    Bonfire Memorial Website:  http://bonfire.tamu.edu/

2.)    Wall Street Journal Article:  http://www.chron.com/news/article/Circular-design-Chinese-stone-give-memorial-1965357.php

3.)    Aggie Bonfire Memorial Design Winner:  http://www.hayneswhaley.com/articles/TAMUBonfirearticle110405.pdf

4.)    The Victoria and Albert Museum:  The Artificial Patination of Bronze Sculptures:  http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/journals/conservation-journal/issue-31/the-artificial-patination-of-bronze-sculpture/

5.)    Causes of Corrosion:  http://water.me.vccs.edu/concepts/corrosioncauses.html

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