Alma Mater ready for her road trip
URBANA — After a sweltering summer of waiting, Alma Mater is finally heading up north for a long-overdue vacation.
The iconic University of Illinois sculpture by Lorado Taft will be taken down early next week and shipped to a Chicago-area conservation studio for $100,000 worth of R&R — in this case, repair and renovation.
The plan had been to remove the 83-year-old bronze sculpture from its familiar spot at Wright and Green streets after the UI commencement in May.
But the move had to be coordinated between The Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio of Forest Park and the two firms responsible for taking apart and moving the sculpture, and early August proved to be the best time, officials said.
Alma should have no problem returning before the 2013 commencement next May, as promised, said Jennifer Hain Teper, a UI conservation librarian and member of the campus Preservation Working Group. The studio built extra time into the restoration schedule, anticipating the possibility of delays, she said.
"This was the best time for all of them to have the necessary time and attention to do this and do it well," Teper said. "It is a substantial delay," she said, but "the time frame they committed to had a substantial amount of padding built into it."
Beginning Monday, the sculpture will be taken apart, wrapped for protection and loaded onto a flatbed truck for delivery to Forest Park, a process expected to take two days. The move will be delayed in the event of severe weather, said Andrew Blacker, spokesman for UI Facilities and Services.
The studio will decide how to take apart the 13-foot sculpture, which is made of four major pieces — Alma, her throne and two figures flanking her, Learning (based on the Greek goddess Athena) and Labor (a young iron worker). The sculpture was cast in at least 30 sections and then bolted together, and the seams are showing the wear.
Once Alma arrives in the studio's 13,000-square-foot treatment facility, lead conservator Andrzej Dajnowski will inspect the interior and determine how much work is needed on the structure, Teper said. He will also do a chemical analysis of the surface corrosion.
"We know externally there's quite a bit of surface cleaning and stabilization" needed, Teper said.
But interior parts of the sculpture may also need to be reinforced or replaced depending on the damage, and "that could be a very extensive treatment," she said.
Dajnowski specializes in restoring notable public sculptures, including several for the Chicago Park District and Taft's "Fountain of Time" in Hyde Park.
Conservation Studio bid $99,962 for the project, which is being funded through the chancellor's office. The studio promised to deliver the fully restored sculpture to campus a week before the May 2013 commencement so it can be properly reinstalled. Dajnowski will also give three public lectures on his progress during the restoration.
Dedicated in 1929, the sculpture has gone decades without proper maintenance, UI officials have said. Taft intended for students to climb on the sculpture, but that has caused cracks in the arms, backs and necks of the three figures.
Alma's last major repair was done in 1981 by Robert Youngman, a university sculpture professor. He and his team strengthened the internal supports, replaced some rusted bolts, sprayed the pieces with a rust inhibitor and caulked the statue's joints.
But some of these repairs may have caused internal damage; with the seams caulked, water can't get out, so the statue is rusting from the inside, UI officials said.
The sculpture's green-streaked patina will be removed as part of the cleaning process, Teper said, but the campus hasnt decided whether Alma will be restored to a natural bronze color or remain green. Historians are trying to find Taft's original intent. Some artists put a sealant on outdoor sculptures to preserve the dark bronze color while others prefer that they weather with time to a natural green patina, she said.