UT art class makes conservation project of Perrysburg sculpture

July 31, 2012 | Arts, UToday
By Cynthia Nowak

Students Austin Tuttle and Regina Jankowski, wearing safety harnesses, get face time with the Commodore in Perrysburg.

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie and famed for his laconic report of victory — “We have met the enemy and they are ours” — was facing a danger beyond even his skills of martial seamanship.

Acid rain.

The damaging pollution had taken the sheen from the memorial statue of Perry that’s long been a landmark of his namesake city. Providentially, Tom Lingeman, UT professor of art, saw the sculpture’s deterioration as an opportunity.

“I’ve wanted the Department of Art to become involved in the conservation of outdoor sculptures for some time, and being that the Perry monument is such an integral community asset, the timing seemed perfect,” Lingeman said.

Working with the city and the Perrysburg Area Arts Council, he offered students in his sculpture class an experience unique at the University.

“We went, we conquered, we washed and waxed,” said Tracey Steils, a 1997 UT art education graduate who’s taking Lingeman’s class to continue her education.

Thanks to Perrysburg’s loan of a forklift and operator, Steils and other students could examine the bronze sculpture before cleaning it with water and a special soap. After drying over the weekend, Perry and the two figures along the monument’s base — a midshipman and a cabin boy — were coated with conservation-grade wax that should protect them for at least a year.

Plans are under way for a yearly conservation visit, Lingeman said.

Heat-wave temperatures this year made the process “a little toasty,” admitted Dee Brown, a UT senior in art. “But it was fun and I learned a lot. In fact, I’ve asked Tom if one or two of my independent sculpture studies over the next year could be a conservation project.”

To expand the art curriculum, Lingeman hopes to create a certificate program in conservation, specializing in outdoor sculpture — which abounds in the area, he noted. His students are gearing up to treat two pieces on the UT Health Science Campus, works of the late sculptor and UT alumna Joe Ann Cousino.

For now, Perry and his companions are noticeably glossier as they protect the junction of Front Street and Louisiana Avenue in downtown Perrysburg. As art education student Dawn Snell said, “It was something to see the sculpture brought back to life once we were finished.”

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