Feeling its age (July 27,1999) Web posted Tuesday, July 27, 1999

THE HENRY M. FLAGLER STATUE outside Flagler College is in bad shape, says a conservator from a South Carolina museum.
Feeling its age
Henry M. Flagler statue is getting a little green around the edges, in need of repair
Staff Intern
Henry Morrison Flagler is not in good condition.

Now the bronze sculpture of this famous developer is under the care of art doctor Theodore Monnich.

The statue was originally unveiled on Jan. 2, 1916, on the anniversary of Flagler’s birthday. The sculptor is unknown, but according to the records, it was cast in Rome in 1902.

Monnich, chief conservator for the South Carolina State Museum, recently examined the statue, which stands at the entrance of Flagler College on King Street. With his fingers and eyes, the art doctor precisely checked the bronze and the pedestal, looking for active deterioration such as bronze disease.

Monnich said the statue is hollow and made out of many pieces that are welded together. The brown color of the sculpture is patina, which is used to highlight the details and make the form look old.

According to the conservator, the green spots on the statue are possible corrosion. Luckily, there are not many spots. On the head and the coat of Flagler are the most signs of the deterioration. Monnich also detected a small amount of bronze disease in the tail of Flagler’s coat. The pedestal is in bad shape; there are a lot of cracks and holes in the marble and concrete.

‘‘You cannot do much about it. We will clean it up and stabilize it,’’ he said.

The first big problem Monnich discovered is the porous condition of the bronze, especially in Flagler’s elbow.

‘‘The problem is when they made the sculpture, the metal was too hot ... too much gas in the metal. The gas bubbles create these little holes. It is the fault of the foundry,’’ he said. ‘‘It is a nice statue. I have to look for the problems. It is well modeled, nice and attractive and well done. I am critical of the foundry; they did not do a good job.’’

Monnich explained that the moisture gets trapped in the holes of the metal and does not dry out. The problem is the holes get bigger and the statue gets very porous. The bronze continues to turn into copper-salt, which looks powdery green.

‘‘It (the bronze) tries to get to its natural state. My job is to slow that down,’’ he said.

The second problem of the statue is the absence of a coating. There are a few signs of an old coating, but mainly it is just bare bronze. There is no protection against moisture, the acid environment and organic material such as bird droppings. Luckily, the close proximity to the ocean is not an issue because the statue is outside the perimeter of its influence.

‘‘We will restore it; we use chemicals to stabilize the corrosion. At the most it is five days’ work, and you will see the details a lot better,’’ he said.

Monnich and his colleagues will put a wax layer on the sculpture to protect the patina. It will be a two-line defense system because the patina is the protective layer of bronze. Flagler College only has to replace the wax every year, and the conservator will teach them how.

Nancy Birchall of Flagler College is responsible for the operation. She applied for a grant to get a professional assessment of the sculpture. And the application was successful. Flagler College received an SOS! (Save Outdoor Sculpture) grant from Heritage Preservation and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art. But Birchall is modest about her achievement.

‘‘Leslee Keyes had noticed the sculpture was bleeding. She sent me this (a magazine of SOS!) in the mail and told me that I could get this grant,’’ said Birchall. ‘‘It is a kind of lost art; we do need to save the ones that we have.’’

Now that the assessment is completed and the cost estimate is determined, Birchall will apply for a matching Conservation Treatment Award Funding. The cost to restore Flagler should be under $5,000. This award comes from Target Stores, The National Endowment for the Arts and SOS!. If Flagler College gets this second grant, the statue will be restored later this year. And according to the plans, the statue will be re-unveiled on Jan. 2, 2000. Birchall said this would be a fitting tribute to a man who contributed so much to molding the future of Florida at the turn of the previous century.

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