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Summer Cleaning?

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 3:52 PM by Nancy Gebhart

by Erin O'Malley, Campus Outreach Coordinator

Formalized in 1980, the Art on Campus Collection and Program includes acquisition, care, and maintenance of the public art on ISU’s campus. In this post we’ll be looking at how University Museums staff care for and maintain one of the largest campus public art programs in the United States.

The Art on Campus Collection (AOC) is made up of over 2,000 public works of art. University Museums has its hands full year round maintaining the collection, but it’s during the spring and summer, when the weather is good, that staff are the most active taking care of the outdoor works of art.

The Art on Campus Collection is located across campus in buildings, courtyards, open spaces, and classrooms. It includes a wide range of materials including stone, metal, and terra cotta. Since it is a public art collection the AOC is in the public space and viewers interact with the art much differently than they do in our museum galleries. The AOC is often also located outdoors and in high trafficked areas. This makes the planning and treatment for its care different from our other museum collections. As you can imagine, it’s quite the effort to assess, clean, and protect the wide variety of art in the AOC.

Why is it important that this is done on a regular basis? The AOC exists not only to enhance the aesthetic value of campus, but it must also be intellectually relevant. For these reasons, caring for and maintaining the art is a core mission of University Museums. To give you an idea of what is entailed in caring for the public art on campus we’ll be looking at Jersey Jewel, a life-sized bronze sculpture located at the ISU Dairy Farm. Sculpted by Norma “Duffy" Lyon and cast in 2006, the sculpture is a good example of the difference that maintenance and care can make.

Jersey Jewel is an outdoor sculpture and while bronze is a robust material, making it ideal for public art, it does corrode over time if not cared for. Figure 1 shows the sculpture’s state before it was cleaned. Because of its location at the ISU Dairy Farm the sculpture was particularly dirty. Jersey Jewel is subjected to dirt, dust, animal droppings, as well as wind, rain, and other environmental factors on a regular basis. Museum staff not only had to clean the sculpture, but also apply treatment to protect it from these ongoing factors. For bronze sculptures this means cleaning with a gentle soap (Fig. 2) to remove the grime and adding a layer of wax (Fig. 3) to protect the bronze long term. This regular care and treatment is done 1-2 times a year for all of the bronze sculptures on campus. For a good example of what can happen to bronze sculptures when they are not regularly cared for take a look at this 16 minute documentary video on the conservation of the Henry Moore sculpture Knife Edge Two Piece.


                                     Fig. 1                                        Fig. 2                                Fig. 3

If you see museum staff on campus while we’re caring for the AOC, be sure to stop and watch the process in person. We are always happy to answer questions about the art and how University Museums cares for it!


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