University to restore Alma Mater to prevent serious future damages

As a renowned symbol of the University, the Alma Mater sculpture has been celebrated and appreciated for decades. Incoming freshmen admire her, graduates proudly take their picture in front of her and alumni return to campus to visit her.

But after recent inspections by the University’s Preservation Working Group, or PWG, it was decided that the bronze statue would be temporarily removed for restoration after graduation this May.

The PWG is dedicated to looking at the preservation needs of historically important items on campus. When the group recently inspected the Alma Mater sculpture, Jennifer Hain Teper, PWG chair, said there was clear evidence that the sculpture was in need of better care and that professionals needed to take a look at it.

“Certainly, nobody wants to see the sculpture leave, but everybody recognizes that it needs to be cared for,” Teper said. “If we don’t do something to take care of it soon, we might see some serious damage to the sculpture in the next few years.”

The Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio Inc., from Forest Park, Ill., will restore the sculpture for $99,962. The restoration will be paid for by the Chancellor’s Fund, a pool of donated money to the chancellor’s office. Methods & Materials Inc., a company that specializes in installing and rigging fine art and artifacts, will take the statue down and move it to the studio about a week after this year’s commencement ceremonies.

According to Melvyn Skvarla, the campus historic preservation officer, the sculpture will be returned to its place at least a week before graduation in 2013 so graduating students will still be able to get their picture taken in front of the Alma Mater.

“We don’t expect that it’ll be gone the entire year, but we’re giving the studio plenty of time for observation work and repair,” Skvarla said.

Skvarla said the Alma Mater had been intended by the sculptor, Lorado Taft, to be touched and climbed on. However, this has caused cracks to form in the sculpture over the years.

In the most recent repair of this sculpture, performed by the University’s staff in 1981, caulk was used to cover some of the joints and cracks to prevent water from getting inside. But it also prevented water from getting out, Skvarla said, which caused serious internal damage through oxidation.

He added that it is unknown how extensive the conservation work is going to be until the studio can investigate the statue’s interior supports.

In addition to interior damage, the originally bronze-colored sculpture has turned green, and parts of it are covered with black streaks and white splotches. Skvarla said this tarnish is a result of exposure to air pollution and the natural environment.

“We want to remove all of that and return it back to its natural state,” Skvarla said.

But the University hasn’t decided whether the Alma Mater will be restored to its natural bronze color or made to appear green again after repairs. If it is bronze when reinstalled, Skvala said it might be a shock at first, but he believes people will get used to it fairly quickly.

Christa Deacy-Quinn, PWG member, said the conservator will be presenting three lectures throughout the course of the project to explain the restoration process and make the public more aware of the project. She said she hopes to get the public as involved as possible and to make this an educational process as well.

“We want people to understand that the Alma Mater has to leave in order to be taken care of properly,” Deacy-Quinn said. “If we have to (restore) it, we want to do it right.”