Students are preserving pieces of Toledo history in a UT class this summer.Tom Lingeman, UT professor of art, is teaching an Outdoor Sculpture Conservation course for the third summer in a row. The class shows students how to properly care for and conserve outdoor sculptures, particularly bronze ones.
“It’s a perfect summer offering,” Lingeman said. “It’s not something you want to do in the winter unless you have a special event; it’s probably the worst time to do it. You’d have to use artificial heating, you’d have to deal with the weather, and there would be potential freezing issues with the materials.”
The class travels to different sculptures around the Toledo area and restores them. Students recently cleaned and restored the century-old bronze statue of President William McKinley in front of the Lucas County Courthouse.
Students learn how to restore and maintain statues using materials and techniques traditionally used and preferred by conservators. Sculptures should be cleaned and waxed every three years, or less, to maintain a good appearance, Lingeman said.
“Publicly owned sculptures require a schedule of regular maintenance performed by trained professionals,” he said. “A history of this conservation should be readily available in some archive form for future conservators.”
Lingeman explained that the processes he teaches his class for cleaning are designed to leave the metal undamaged.
“Our first tenet when planning a strategy for the cleaning and preservation of a priceless, publicly owned bronze sculpture is: Do no harm,” Lingeman said. “A century-old sculpture such as the William McKinley can be preserved and maintained and look beautiful without removing, abrading or marring the original casting.”
Conor Roberts, a fifth-year sculpture and 3-D art major, said this is his second time taking the class and he feels like he’s still learning new things.
That includes assessing the condition of works and what needs to be done to conserve them, he said.
In addition to the McKinley statue, the class also has restored Iron Mike on Glenwood Road in Perrysburg and Commodore Perry on Louisiana Avenue in Perrysburg, both bronze statues.
The course will finish with an assessment project where teams of students survey six sculptures of their choosing around the Toledo area. Students will photograph the sculptures and make a detailed list of repair and maintenance sharing the data with the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo for review.
Lingeman said he hopes to expand the class in the upcoming years and potentially take a trip to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania or Washington, D.C., to restore bronze sculptures.