A team of art conservators chip away at the damage left by years of wear and tear at Duluth’s statues and monuments.
Public sculptures in Duluth received a makeover this week from an art conservation specialist and local apprentices.
Kristin Cheronis, a caretaker of public art in Minneapolis and St. Paul, used her tools to combat and prevent weather damage as well as the man- and bird-made destruction of artwork in local parks and pavilions.
“Our goal is to keep (the sculptures) strong and meaningful and as close to the artist’s original intent as we can,” she said.
She worked on “Spirit of the Lake” in Canal Park and “Green Bear” in Lake Place Park on Monday. On Tuesday, she moved on to the “Man, Child and Gull” in Canal Park and the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial on First Street.
Cheronis studied the three bronze figures at the memorial Tuesday with her hands on her hips. They got their start in the early afternoon and planned to spend the rest of the day on the project.
Within seconds she could tell that a bird likes to sit atop Clayton’s hat and that passersby often touch the trio’s shoes, which poke out of the concrete wall where they are inset. She noted streaks of green where the protective wax had thinned. She worried that a neighboring business’s painting project might stain the work.
Cheronis, sculpture technician David Fitzgerald and Penny Perry of the Duluth Public Arts Commission first wiped down the memorial with a non-ionic soap with sponges and gloved hands. An old layer of protective wax was stripped from the sculptures with turpentine. They planned to apply a fresh layer of wax, wait for it to dry, then to buff the art.
Left untended, the pieces would corrode, Cheronis said. The sculpture needs to be addressed at least every other year, with a full service job — like they performed this week — done every five years.
“In another five years, you wouldn’t see the forms,” said Cheronis, whose background is in studio art, art history and chemistry. “It would look seedy.”
Perry served as an apprentice, learning the basics of conservation so Duluth’s 25 to 30 pieces of outdoor public art can get regular attention from a local eye.
Earlier in the day she had seen man-made and natural corrosion damage such as chunks of bubble gum, flecks of nail polish and bird excrement, and learned to spot trouble areas, like the streaks of green worn into the figures at the memorial. She saw the “before and after” of two days of work.
“Working on these gives you a new appreciation,” she said. “When I see the ‘Green Bear’ now, I’m invested in it.”
Peter Spooner of the Duluth Public Arts Commission said public art adds character, and upkeep leads to pride in an area.
“They create a sense of a cared-for space or aesthetic space that people want to develop and keep looking good,” Spooner said.
The trio of workers attracted attention in the high-traffic pavilion on East First Street and Second Avenue East. A few people thanked them for their work, and one woman volunteered to help.
Henry Banks noticed the workers when he rode past on the bus. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial was a project he initiated in 2000 as co-chairman of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Building Committee. He said he often stops by the site and said he appreciated the fix-up.
“This is timely and important,” he said, taking photographs. “People put heart and soul into this monument for our community.”