News and Current Projects
All Year Round
The art conservation program works actively year-round to care for Cambridge's public art collection, from planning new fabrications to major repairs to annual routine tasks. Here are a few examples of recent art conservation activities:
Assessing Bernard LaCasse’s Beat the Belt Mural
Conservation Assessment of Bernard LaCasse’s Beat the Belt Mural in Cambridge
730 Memorial Drive (rear of building)
Accession #: CAC80.09
Acrylic on painted brick
The "Inner Belt" was a proposed eight-lane highway that would have run right through the neighborhood of Cambridgeport. Local residents battled the highway for 20 years before winning the fight in 1970. Bernie LaCasse's mural, completed in 1980, commemorates this moment of triumph, celebrating the power of ordinary people to make a difference. The Cambridge Arts Council’s public art archive contains files on the early history of the mural. At that time, the artist noted the important work of the steering committee and the number of people who assisted him on the project. He wrote: “I feel the process was as important as the final artwork”.
By 1995, the color had faded, and that year the artist repainted the mural with a grant from Stop & Shop, the building occupant at that time. The mural remained in good condition for a number of years, but some fading and flaking paint was noted in the year 2000. Since 2000, the Art Conservation Program has annually monitored the mural. During these inspections, dirt and accretions removed by a gentle detergent and water.
In 2003, after further flaking was noted, a freelance painting conservator was asked to assess the condition of the mural. The conservator’s report noted water damage from the leaking roof above, and water damage on the right side due to the poor condition of the flashing. There were also abrasions to the panel caused by car parking. In the ensuing years, more flaking has been noted. By 2008, severe fading was noted, and in 2013, graffiti (in the form of a letter “B”) was found spray painted at the upper right. In 2015, the art conservation program determined that an in-depth assessment was needed.
For the assessment, we will be considering the following questions:
The Art Conservation Mural Assessment will be carried out on Thursday November 17, by Rika Smith McNally, the Director of Art Conservation at the Cambridge Arts Council, Liza Leto-Fulton, freelance paintings and murals conservator, and Nichole Speciale, freelance conservation technician and collections care specialist.
- Is the paint layer in such poor condition that it cannot be repainted?
- Can the current flaking paint be stabilized? Can the losses be filled, and if yes, what with?
- Are there any mitigating steps we can take to lower the amount of moisture entering the concrete block?
- Should we attempt to repaint the mural, and if so, can we get approval from the artist?
- What materials would be best for repainting, if that is considered? What varnish?
- If we repaint, how long can we expect this iteration of the mural to last?
- Are the Hubway Bicycle racks protecting or hindering the preservation of the mural?
- Have there been other projects like this elsewhere in the United States, in which a second repainting was successful?
The final report with recommendations and budget estimates is expected by early February 2017.
Inman Square Gets its Color Back!
In an art conservation project scheduled for this winter and spring, artist Lisa Houck's much loved mural The Bluefish is Good Tonight in Inman Square has been temporarily removed for repainting. Dating to 1987, the original color had faded and turned "chalky." In this image, the team from USArt prepares for de-installation.
In the artist's studio, Rika McNally, Director of the Art Conservation Program, and conservation technician Rory Beerits wash one of the five panels. The white, powder-like "chalking" is the result of excessive deterioration of the original paint medium. The artist and her assistants will be using a new and improved paint system, and the art conservators will apply a 2-layer protective coating that includes an ultraviolet light inhibitor. Follow the artist's blog on the project: artasithappens.wordpress.com
The Best Garage Windows in Town
Over the past few years, some of the brightly colored Plexiglas windows in Dot Matrix, an art installation by artist Ed Andrews, were broken. Ed recently came to Cambridge, and working with conservation technician Rory Beerits, replaced the missing panels.
The art installation, which is composed of a series of Plexiglas panels integrated into an aluminum grid held in place by steel cables, is checked and washed annually.
Stop by during the day or evening to see what locals have described as "like a church," "sublime," and "sometimes [it's] the favorite part of my day!"
The Igor Fokin Memorial, made by artist Konstantin Simun in 2001, celebrates the life of the famed puppeteer who delighted crowds of onlookers in the early 1990's. The little sculpture of "Doo Doo" the puppet charms passersby today and marks a favorite area for Cambridge street performers to entertain the public. From years of touching and exposure to weather, the small bronze was in need of regilding, and this was carried out by Paul Riedl, master gilder. Here Paul applies a yellow colored sealant layer before the gold leaf.
The memorial before and after regilding. блестящие!
The regilding drew a crowd of old friends, street performers, and members of the Russian community. From Left to Right: Puppet Man Blue, Paul Riedl, Konstantin Simun, Benjamin the Juggling Clown (a.k.a. Benjamin Elfant), Olesya Koenig of the From Russia With Art Gallery, Mrs. Elfant, Peter Panic, and Rika Smith McNally.
Artist Heidi Whitman's sidewalk mosaic Brain Terrain was damaged along one side from snow removal equipment during this past winter's snow storms. Conservators and technicians used tesserae reserved from the original fabrication to carry out repairs.
After 14 years of continuous use, the water pump and valves of Drawn Water, an art installation at the Cambridge Water Treatment Facility by artist team Mags Harries and Lajos Héder, required replacement. The original golden ball inside the Plexiglas water column, which reacts to the use of the drinking fountain outside by dancing with the bubbling water, was damaged from wear. After repairing the fountain works, a new golden ball was placed inside the column.