Sunday, March 7, 2021

Chemistry can fix a statue honoring Francis Scott Key


Art restoration experts will do their best to repair a statue in Baltimore that honors Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner in the city during the War of 1812, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The graffiti on the Key statue in Baltimore (Baltimore Heritage / Flickr CC)

The Key statue was damaged recently, when vandals painted the words “racist anthem” on it and tossed some red paint on it, presumably to symbolize blood.

Sometime last night, a good Samaritan tried to clean the graffiti off of the statue, but whoever it was tried to pressure-wash the paint off and, inadvertently, it is believed, drove the paint further into the marble and weathered a few bits of marble off in the process.

“You never want to pressure-wash marble,” the Sun quoted Diane Fullick, an art conservator hired by the city to inspect and scrub away the vandalism. She and Howard Wellman, another local art conservator, will try different solvents on the paint and will try to remove the graffiti using chemistry, rather than brute force.

“I’m solubilizing the paint,” Ms Fullick was quoted as saying, first using acetone gel on one section. “In all likelihood, it’ll be a multi-step process.”

The path to becoming an art conservator

“There are many possible careers in conservation, spanning a range of preservation and conservation tasks, but the road to becoming a conservator can be long,” writes the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works. “Historically, years-long apprenticeships with established conservators were the primary method of training. Today, more than two thirds of practicing conservators have a master’s degree, and most job postings for conservators require a master’s degree in conservation or equivalent.”

During study and preparation, some conservators say students should be prepared to encounter many subjects outside their area of expertise. They may specialize in art history, but then the subject of racist graffiti will be brought up.

“As a conservator you are bound to encounter many materials that may seem to be outside your field. Make sure you love what you are specializing in: the field is constantly changing and as a conservator one needs to keep up on the latest developments,” says Katharine Whitman, a photography conservator at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

“It’s overwhelming in what it is and how it happened, why it happened, coupled with the surface area,” Ms Fullick was quoted as saying back in Baltimore. “But graffiti is graffiti, and paint removal is paint removal to an art conservator.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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