Having Work Done: Museum’s Bronze Statues Undergo Rejuvenation

Having withstood the weather and elements of Maine for 120 years, two life-size bronze statues outside the Bowdoin College Museum of Art are being rejuvenated.

"Pre-treatment" shot of ancient Greek orator Demosthenes outside the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

“Pre-treatment” shot of ancient Greek orator Demosthenes outside the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Crafted by renowned Neapolitan bronze caster Sabatino de Angelis, the 19th century sculptures of the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles and the Ancient Greek orator Demosthenes are original to the 1894 Beaux Arts Walker Art Building. Noted architect Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White, designed the building, which underwent a $20.8 million award-winning renovation and restoration in 2007.

The statues, commissioned by McKim for the building’s façade, occupy wall niches on either side of the Museum steps. They will undergo onsite conservation and cleaning by a team from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), of Williamstown, Mass., a nonprofit regional conservation facility devoted to the conservation and preservation of cultural and historical objects, of which the Museum is a founding member.

The conservation of these works has benefitted from a five-year grant from the Lunder Foundation to the WACC to bolster the conservation budgets of the four Maine museums — including the Bowdoin College Museum of Art — that are members of the WACC consortium. The Lunder Foundation is a private foundation established in 1998 by Peter and Paula Lunder. It supports educational, arts and health care organizations.

“Summer is the season for improvements on the Bowdoin campus,” said Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Frank Goodyear. “We are excited about the opportunity to work with conservators from the Williamstown Conservation Center to ensure a long life for these beloved sculptures.”

Both bronze statues are 19th-century copies of ancient works. Sophocles was modeled from a late fourth century BCE, Greek marble statue; and Demosthenes was modeled from a Vatican Collection marble copy of the original bronze, which was sculpted by Polyeuktos of Athens in 280 BCE. Other figures represented on the façade of the Walker Art Building include busts of Hermes, Dionysus, and Homer. At the time the Museum was established, the curriculum of Bowdoin College focused on the classics, so an educational as well as aesthetic motive is suggested by the selection of an orator and dramatist to decorate the Walker Art Building.

“We are delighted to have this opportunity to learn more about these works as we preserve them for future generations,” said Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Anne Goodyear. “We are grateful for the generosity of Peter and Paula Lunder that has helped make possible this project.”

thumb:Jamie Tatham