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
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.’’