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An intrepid team of conservators and graduate school interns cleaned three Staten Island public monuments during Wednesday's scorching heat. On the docket for treatment were the 1893 bronze "Neptune Fountain" at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, a 1915 sculpture of the Civil War captain Major Clarence Barrett across from Staten Island Borough Hall, and Allen Newman's iconic "The Hiker" in Tompkinsville Park.
The team started its day at the Snug Harbor fountain.
"When you have public sculpture in an urban environment, it's affected by everything — from the snow, from the rain, from the pollutants in the air, from, obviously, vandalism, graffiti," said Christine Djuric, the Monuments Conservation Manager who was overseeing Wednesday's conservation team of four graduate-level intern apprentices. "All these affect the building materials that the sculptures are made of."
Djuric said the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program, which is part of the city's Department of Parks & Recreation, did annual treatments on the city's monuments.
"We view the monuments collection as an outdoor museum, free and open to the public every day," said Jonathan Kuhn, the director of art and antiquities at the Department of Parks & Recreation. "The purpose of monuments is to perpetuate the memory of people and events important to the evolution of our society, and the work that the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program performs helps preserve that legacy, while training the next generation of conservators.”
Wednesday, Djuric's team first washed the monuments with a gentle cleaser made to shampoo horses. Then, they used a pressure wash to get off any residual wax on the sculpture. Finally, they applied hot and cold wax coatings before buffing the works.
"Bronze is very easy to clean," Djuric said. "When we do an application of hot wax, we heat the surface with torches to open up, essentially, the pores of the bronze and [that] allows us to put on a protective coating that's much more resistant to the wear."
She added that she didn't mind the heat because at least work could be done.
"I'll take it over a rainy day 'cause then you can't get anything done," Djuric said.
Rebekah Krieger, a 29-year-old recent University of Pennsylvania grad, was one of the apprentices on the team. She said park lovers were really appreciative of her team's work.
"Often people that come by know the sculpture or walk by it every day," she said, "and they always have a little something to say or they have an idea about who the sculpture is of and they're really happy to see us cleaning it."
Another apprentice on the team, Jamie Gleason, who is a 33-year-old Art Conservation grad student at Buffalo State College, said he didn't mind the scorching weather because he was working outdoors.
"As an art conservator, I'm usually working in a lab at a bench inside all the time," said Gleason. "In Buffalo, there's three feet of snow always...That was one of the things that drew me to this — being outside."
This is the first week of the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program's summer season. The program, which has trained more than 80 apprentices and conserved more than 60 sculptures, is a public-private partnership that was started in 1997.
Click below to see images of the team hard at work.