Track 2: Materials over Time: Points of Change
2 - Understanding the Skeleton – The Interior of 19th Century Pegasus Sculptures
Monday, September 24
2:45 PM - 4:15 PM
Location: BNCC- 101BG
Ever wonder what a 19th Century sculpture looks like on the inside? Neither did anyone else until a crack appeared on the leg of an otherwise healthy-looking Pegasus sculpture. Thus began the investigation to learn what these sculptures looked like from the inside out.
The two colossal bronze Pegasus sculptures flank the entry to Philadelphia’s children’s museum, the Please Touch Museum. The museum building and these sculptures are two of the few remaining remnants from the 1876 Centennial. Each monumental sculpture is of a winged-horse accompanied by a classically dressed mythological muse and measures approximately 16’ tall x 21’ long x 8’ wide standing 15’ in the air on a granite plinth.
Originally cast for the façade of the Vienna Opera House, the Pegasi were removed shortly thereafter due to disdain by the citizens and were destined for the scrap heap. A Philadelphian traveling through Europe heard this story and, together with a group of Philadelphian businessmen, purchased the sculptures for the newly established Fairmount Park. They were shipped to Philadelphia in 1871 and ultimately reassembled at this prominent location for the Centennial. Here they have stood for over 140 years.
After learning of a crack in one of the horse’s legs, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy authorized Materials Conservation Co., LLC to complete an investigation of the infrastructure of the sculptures. Archival research revealed no record of construction; neither plans nor specifications. Visual and borescopic assessments also yielded scarce information about the interior except to indicate the sculptures were merely held together by extremely corroded iron bolts. This revelation prompted an emergency restoration project.
The sculptures were temporarily stabilized and then disassembled piece by piece beginning by removing each horse head. As each piece was removed more of the mystery of their construction was revealed but it wasn’t until all the disassembled fragments lay in the yard that the cast iron structure and technology could really be understood.
As expected, the infrastructure was no longer able to safely support the sculptures but it was also unable to be removed. A restoration campaign was developed to accommodate the unusual structural elements. Stainless steel splints were made to span areas of severe deterioration. Significant loose cast iron pieces were electrolytically cleaned, galvanized, coated in a high zinc solids paint, and finally coated with a corrosion inhibiting oil. The infrastructure within the base was replaced by stainless steel replicating the former cast iron exactly.
This presentation will walk through the process of disassembly, discovery, restoration and reassembly providing insight into some surprising nineteenth century bronze and cast-iron construction and discuss the modern stainless steel replication elements used for their restoration.
- understand unique aspects of 19th century sculpture construction.
- approach diagnosing sculpture infrastructure deterioration.
- understand treatments to historic structural iron.
- approach integrating new materials while also conserving the old.