Art conservator Francis Miller of ConservArt, LLC (a private conservation firm based in Hamden, CT) is on the ISU campus this month to work on several Christian Petersen sculptures, including the Fountain of the Four Seasons in front of the Memorial Union. I’m particularly delighted Francis is here, because I worked for him at ConservArt for a few years before going back to school for book and paper conservation. The conservation field is a small world, so it’s a happy coincidence that we now both have ties to ISU. I love my job as the Library Conservator, but sometimes I miss working with inorganic stone and metal. Talking with Francis about his current project brings back fond memories about the challenges of working on large-scale, outdoor sculpture.
The Christian Petersen sculpture Fountain of the Four Seasons depicts four limestone figures, each representing a different season. The capstones and surround of the fountain are constructed of lightly vitrified, unglazed terracotta, which is an unusual choice of material for an outdoor sculpture. The sculpture suffers from losses of mortar in the joints between the limestone figures and the terracotta surround. The fountain’s surfaces are also marred by a build-up of calcium deposits.
In the 1990s, conservation work was performed on the fountain to remove the calcification caused by Ames’s hard water. At that time, a water softening system was installed to prevent further calcium deposits. Three or four years ago, the system broke down, leading to a renewed calcium build-up. Francis and his crew have removed the majority of the calcium deposits, and are now working on unifying the stone surface and repairing the mortar joints. A new water filtration system will also be installed to prevent further calcification. Once the repairs are complete and the new water filtration system is installed, the Fountain of the Four Seasons will once again delight visitors to the Memorial Union and provide a picturesque spot for graduation and bridal photography.
Francis Miller will give a public lecture on “Conserving a Legacy” this Thursday, May 26, at 7 p.m., in 2019 Morrill Hall, Iowa State University.