This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, April 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.
Red Jacket: Sculpture Conservation Treatment in Forest Lawn Cemetery by Francis Miller
Francis Miller: Thanks for having me here today, everyone, and thanks for everyone attending. It’s great getting a group like this together, not only to discuss issues with repairs and conservation, but also governing plans that were discussed earlier and the philosophies surrounding this whole interest. I’m going to touch on that at the end of the talk, as well. At the get-go, I want to thank Forest Lawn Cemetery. They brought me to this project. Joseph Dispenza, who’s here today, is a phenomenal person and a fantastic force, and is somebody that does not accept the answer “no.” You’ll learn more about that in this talk. My gratitude to them for this project. It was really a wonderful opportunity.
The Red Jacket monument is really a unique monument for a unique person in a unique place. Red Jacket was given the name originally when he was born Otitiyane. He was born in 1750. He was later to be known as Sageyawaca, Keeper Awake, or He Who Keeps them Awake, because he was an amazing orator and spent much of his life trying to preserve the lands for his people. Just a remarkable person.
He took the name Red Jacket because he aided the British in the Revolutionary War. You can imagine, at that time, the Native Americans here were probably trying to pick the lesser of evils to preserve their culture and land. Unfortunately, we know how that war went, and so the Seneca ended up losing a lot of the territory in this region, due to their support for the British. Following the war, the Seneca had seceded much of their land to the United States, and many of them moved to Canada in what is now the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario.
Red Jacket supported the United States later for the War of 1812, so sort of changed his positions and strategies. He became chief of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation, in one of the six Seneca nations of the Iraki league or confederacy. He led a delegation in 1792 to the United States Capitol in Philadelphia at the time, where President George Washington, impressed with Red Jacket, commissioned and gifted a large engraved silver medal honoring their meeting. The medal is now held in the collection of the Erie County and Buffalo Historical Society. I’ll show that in a minute. It depicts Red Jacket holding a peace pipe and Washington reaching forward with his right hand in a sign of peace. Red Jacket signed the treaty of … I don’t know the pronunciation properly for this … Canandaigua? If anyone could pronounce that for me. It’s a nearby community.
Person in background: Canandaigua?
Francis Miller: Canandaigua. Thank you very much. That gave proper ownership to land here in upstate New York. He gave it also … he has an amazing grasp of vocabulary and intellect. Phenomenal writer. He wrote a really moving piece in response to Jacob Kramm. He was a New England missionary, Jacob Kramm. Red Jacket’s paper, “Religion for the White Man and the Red,” it’s a really moving piece. I think everybody should have an opportunity to look that up online. It’s an amazing paper.
At age 78, he died in Buffalo, at Buffalo Creek. That was in 1830. He was buried in an old Indian burial ground on Bockham Street in South Buffalo, and the remains were exhumed and re-interred at Forest Lawn in 1884, along with Young King, Destroy Town, Captain Puller, Captain Puller’s wife and granddaughter, Tall Peter, and Little Billy. Nine others that were unidentified, but thought distinguished, were exhumed and buried there as well. They’re at a head plot that’s at the entry to the cemetery. It’s quite a prominent space, and deservingly so.
Eli Parker, he was a prominent Native American who was a top aid to General Ulysses S. Grant, was the first Native American to be appointed to the post of Commissioner of Indian Affairs by President Grant, is also interred there at the cemetery.
That’s the historical background to this piece. My introduction was a phone call, asking me to do an assessment of some monuments at Forest Lawn by photograph, to get an idea of the conditions and cost for treating some of the sculptures on the grounds. As you saw earlier, the grounds are quite ornate. They’re stunningly beautiful. I’m reluctant to do assessments by photographs, but given the time frame we had to approach this, I did it under the condition that this would be a very loose proposal, and that it would have to accommodate any other conditions that could not be observed through the photographs. I submitted a proposal and assessment of the monument.
Here are some of the inscriptions on the front. The bronze stands … I think about 11 foot, 6 tall. The base is, I think, about 15 to 18 feet. Beautiful inscriptions still intact with Westerly Granite, an amazing stone. Fortunately, the artist, which is James J. C. Hamilton, had a lot of artwork to base the portrait on, which was fantastic. Because he was such a notable Native American, there are many portraits made of him at the time. You can see in every portrait, he has that wonderful medallion given to him by Washington. It’s very interesting in how they actually depict Red Jacket in the medallion. None of the portraits, you’ll notice, have him wearing this sort of bizarre attire. But, that was in the medallion. He was quite proud of it, as you might imagine, having it being given by George Washington. So, he did wear it whenever he posed for portraits, and he is wearing it in this sculpture as well.
The sculpture is highly corroded, mostly of an even light green powdery corrosion, products of copper sulfates. The light green surfaces indicate surface loss. It’s nice seeing those two images together, and how an artist simplifies things to be read at a distance without the detail of a fine etching. But, you can also see the surface pitting on the surface of the bronze itself. There’s actually a remarkable amount of copper alloy that’s lost due to acid rain. Here’s a detail. You can see the deep pitting on the surfaces, which is worse in horizontal regions that harbor more water. The more water that sits in the pits that are being caused, you get more reaction that occurs, and the pits get deeper and deeper. There’s a detail of the figure in the medallion.
There’s also some black corrosion of streaking in the recessed regions. They tend to develop a raised crust, and it really obscures sculptural quality. One image, I wanted to show this now. Remember this, and I’ll show you the same image at the end. There’s so much sculptural detail. Hamilton did a wonderful job showing the beautiful tassels within the cloak that he’s wearing. There’s a lot of mottling all over the surface that just can’t be read under those conditions, both with the streaking of the green and black, and it’s the powdery quality of the surface that gives everything a flat appearance. There’s a detail of that recess. There’s a lot of debris and soiling in recesses. Mud wasp nests, bird nests, that sort of thing. Accumulation of years and years of just air blown debris.
Failing fills. Well, the exterior casts and all the visible portions have pretty tight Roman joints, and those joints are usually made by having a tendon fit into a mortis socket, much like the gravestones are set into a base. So, you’ll have a bronze extruded portion coming out, say, from an arm that’ll fit into a shoulder, and that joint is hammered and pinned flush, and the whole seam chased, so you can’t even see the joint itself. When it corrodes a little bit, it’s almost flawless, a continuous surface. However, the foundry, they did a great job with all the areas you could clearly see, but underneath the recesses, where the … I forgot what he’s holding in his hand, here. Yeah, in that seam itself, the joinery was one of the worst that I had ever seen with a cast. Huge openings, over a half-inch to an inch wide, and really long. They were all filled with wax, which was really intriguing. It talks about, also, the process itself. They could only apply that wax later, after they had actually waxed or oiled the surface. But, if you were to heat the sculpture now for any future treatment, all that wax would melt and be completely lost. It has no longevity for maintenance or any type of treatment, whatsoever.
We pulled out that failing wax, and we filled the seams with lead, hammered lead. We did that to keep all the mud wasps and other bugs and stuff out of the interior of the cast. Anything that goes into the hollow is simply going to either hang onto the cast itself, possibly cause more corrosion that might come through the pores, but more than that, it’s going to go to the base of the sculpture, accumulate, and then cause possible staining to the stone below. It’s just not a good thing to have on the interior. It’s best to keep the interior of the cast as clean as you can.
We hammered all the lead to conform to the seams, textured it, we would later paginate it. Then we cleaned loose corrosion with pressurized water, and got the soiling off with just using Orvus, a nice detergent, very clean and safe to use. All of our water is treated, and I do this with all historic cemeteries and stonework as well, a very simple filter, activated charcoal in a 30-micron filter. You can get it at Home Depot. Very cheap, but very effective for filtering water.
The surfaces were patinated. It was a decision that had to be made … when entering the cemetery, this sculpture really greets all the visitors to the site. It’s a very historic site. At the entry, there were two other sculptural objects: an aged bell that’s a very even green color, and a more modern sculpture that was actually patinated to match the green colors of both Red Jacket and the bell. We had to keep the color of the sculpture congruous with that entry, of an aged, but well-maintained grounds. That was really imperative. Joseph told me from the get-go that that would be the way to go with the sculpture, and I completely agree with that philosophy. We patinated the surface with some cupric nitrate, and it evened out the black quality, those black highlights on the sculpture, so you could then read the details much more clearly.
One thing we didn’t anticipate was that this sculpture sits on a very, very closely-matched diameter of the granite base. The granite base rises up, I would say it’s 18 feet in the air, and then only has about a 3/16 of a reveal between the granite and the beginning of the bronze sculpture. Those diameters are so closely matched. It’s a beautiful, beautiful match. However, the sculpture was very, very … so closely matched, and had walked a little bit over and actually off the surface. Now, you can imagine, there was, I think, about 32 linear inches of bronze overhanging the stone, which is a huge percentage for this piece. My initial reaction was that, often, they’ll put interior blind pins. There were no visible pins on the top of the self base of the bronze, so I knew that there was not an anchor extending down from the top. Often, they’ll just drill a hole through the top of the self base of the bronze, throw in an anchor, grout it into the masonry below, and it’s fairly stable. You know that it’s suddenly not going to fall over. There was no top hardware, so I was assuming it was blind pin. Sometimes, they’ll put cross-bracing on the interior of the cast, have a blind pin, or they’ll have pins or large sections of bronze extend down, let’s say, through the leg, through the bronze self base, into the stone below. That will secure it to the base.
I was assuming that’s what was happening here, because you could actually shake the sculpture a little bit, and it actually seemed fairly stable. It just looked like it was wobbling back and forth a little bit. I thought that was actually ingenious of them, if that was how they anchored it, because then it took the weight of the sculpture off that very edge of the Westerly granite base. You can imagine that this is only 3/16 from the edge. If you get a spalled configuration, particularly with it hanging over a tiny bit, this could easily topple. I thought, well, it was pretty smart, let’s say they lifted it up a little bit. It felt like it was more oscillating than just rocking back and forth. I was fairly confident that that was it, and we could nudge it back.
I drilled a hole and looked inside with a borescope, and saw that there were no pins whatsoever, that this was just freestanding on the base, as I’m power washing this thing. It’s the first monument … I have never seen anything so daring as this, ever. I was floored. I went down to talk to Joe. I said, “Joe, we have a problem. This sculpture’s not attached to the base. It’s actually really close to toppling.” Joe got right on the phone, called International Chimney, and said, “Look, we have a problem. We need to stabilize a sculpture here, and we need to do it in three days. We need you all to design a system, fabricate it, get a crane down here, lift the sculpture, and reset it.” There was panic on the other end of the phone, and Joe said, “We’ve been working together for some years, right?” I could hear the other person nodding on the end of the line. Joe said, “We can work together to make this happen, correct?” Joe is a tour de force. He is an inspirational person. He is so optimistic, and it all came together. In that meeting, we actually came up with a brilliant design, and Joe was a part of that.
Just to get an idea how close this could have been to toppling, here’s some … The average wind speed in Buffalo is 11.8 miles an hour. That doesn’t mean much. But, here’s some high gust recordings. 82 miles an hour, right? And down to 70 miles an hour. Given its height and its configuration, that alone could easily blow the sculpture back off the base. Not only that, let’s add seismic activity to that. This is in New York, and a lot of this is within this region in upstate New York. There’s some serious concerns here that may go unnoticed with continuous seismic activity. It’s minor, compared to California, but there’s some shaking activity. With that in mind, we thought, we really need to get this up. We lifted the sculpture, looked down at the base. You could actually see … it’s hard to detect here, but you can see where it was overhanging on this section of the Westerly granite, and you can see how large the reveal is on this portion. So, you can get an idea of how close it was to the edges. Over the years, or even just during the setting, they just stabilized it with wood shim … that might be my shim … with lead shims.
What I was seeing when I was rotating it, it was oscillating. I hadn’t even considered that kind of movement. I look more for rocking. But, the whole thing was actually rolling in a circle. You can imagine that kind of constant movement with wind, and how that might create micro-fractures around the edge of the stone. So, there was a huge concern that we needed to actually get the sculpture off of the edge. Joe was actually the one who came up with a brilliant idea. He said, “Well, let’s just put it on a big stainless steel plate.” I was like, “That’s actually a brilliant idea.” Now, the sculpture … this stabilizing armature was designed to have the sculpture rest on its outer perimeter, taking the weight off from the granite. These little arms or plates with wedges would be adjusted to fit the exact dimension of the sculpture by loosening these nuts and pushing them forward, and then rebolting them, and then, that would prevent the sculpture from having any kind of rock. I didn’t want to actually have to have to drill through the sculpture itself, but the engineer was very concerned that we had to have some pinning between the sculpture and this armature. So, we did have to drill holes around the base and into these bronze plates that are screwed to the stainless steel.
These bronze plates are going to minimize galvanic corrosion. If anything’s going to happen, we’re going to have some corrosion that’s going to occur more on the back plate than this mid-plate that’s in contact with the bronze. This system should be extremely stable for a very, very long time.
There’s a top view of the plate. Again, the bronze piece, that’s going to meet the actual bronze sculpture. The bronze was lowered down, it was taken off by crane, lowered off onto this plate. The plate had, at each contact point, had a chisel mark, so we knew exactly where it was going to line up when it was taken off again with the bronze sculpture.
Let’s back up, just for a second. Once it was in place, they fit everything together. They expanded all of those sleeves and fit it extremely well. The plate was brought back up to the top of the Westerly granite base, and anchored in the plate with stainless steel and grout.
That’s looking at the plate before the sculpture was reattached to the top of the base. That’s an old keyhole for lifting the stone monument.
Now, we’re lowering the bronze back down into the sculpture. Originally, I thought the sculpture was pinned through these Roman joint sockets, because they’re extremely strong points where they would insert a bar from that point down into the granite. That’s what I was really thinking was truly holding the sculpture on, and that they had elevated it ever so slightly, and that’s what allowed it to walk over that bit that it was overhanging. But, I was sure wrong about that.
Here, there’s one of the marks on the base. We had to drill a hole there to meet the bronze plate behind. We had, actually, pretty tight space between the artist’s signature, and there was a foundry mark on the other side. But, there’s the artist’s signature on the bronze as well. That was patinated, then, to match in color. Then, the sculpture was coated with an acrylic resin, Incrilac. It’s gone through a lot of accelerated tests, and it always comes up with one of the top-performing products for coating bronze sculptures. Developed for copper roofs, initially, but holds up very well. It should have a 15-year life span on the sculpture without any required maintenance.
There’s the monument, after treatment. It was rededicated, and it was an amazing ceremony. We had assembly member Sam Hoye. He secured a grant for the efforts, and he attended and spoke, which was really wonderful. It was also really wonderful to have a blessing from a descendant of Red Jacket attend and speak, and re-bless the site. That was just, it was a special treatment. That was fantastic.
I just want to look at this briefly, and then we can watch a quick video, if there’s time for that part. There’s some treatments that are being done, I can’t say where or by who, that are so invasive. This is by a conservator and overseen by a landscape architect. But, the amount of damage that’s being done to actually try and prevent damage to the stone is dumbfounding. What we have are Connecticut sandstone monuments that are sheeting large portions of the face about 2 inches thick, or are developing cracks along entire planes, where the front plane of the carved face is starting to delaminate. To prevent damage to the carved face of the stone, they drilled hundreds of holes through the surface, put stainless steel anchors, and injected grouts in behind. There has to be a more sympathetic way, I know there’s a more sympathetic way, of preserving a face than this.
My question to everyone, and my concern, is that, here we have two bodies, both very capable bodies, individuals, coming up with an end result like this, completely unchecked. It’s not intentionally bad. There was quite a bit of craftsmanship that went into this, despite the damage. Not a great selection of materials and stuff in the end, but there were obviously very skilled people working at this site. It just seems, in this case, come up again several times today, that there needs to be some way that we can monitor work that’s being done on these historic cemeteries that are so amazingly valuable, and on the National Registry.
If nothing else, objects that are on the National Registry, maybe have some sort of governing body that allows some oversight where conservators might be able to look at treatments, give ideas, evaluate treatments, for regions that are maybe not in conflict with their own area that they’re working. So, you’re not going to, particularly with private conservators, be stepping on toes of people that are working in your area or trying to broaden your work base in any way. To keep it as pure as possible, and just looking at what the conservation plans are, and what the end results might be, to come up with a real, responsible, and good procedure for doing this. It seems like they’ve certainly developed these systems, it sounds like in Canada, and indefinitely in Europe. I hope that we, in some way, can get together and figure out how we can devise some systems that work for us here, because, to me, this is just not acceptable.
If there’s time, I’ll show the brief video. If not, we can all go have a snack.
Person in background: How long is it?
Francis Miller: It’s short, it’s five minutes.
Francis on video: Here is the first monument that I’ve treated, but not first doing on-site inspection. We didn’t have time to experience, so, for the re-dedication, we had to look at the photographs of the monument back in Connecticut, come up with a treatment plan, arrive here with all of our equipment, and then discover that the sculpture actually had some other major issues that were just unforeseen.
While walking around the monument, it became apparent very quickly that the bronze was actually overhanging the stone pedestal. This sculpture sits up on the pedestal 18 feet or so; the footprint of the bronze matches the granite so precisely that any overhang actually entails quite a circumference of the bronze itself. 32 linear inches were migrating off the stone.
We actually went up on the scaffold, shook the monument, and it appeared to be rotating. So, I assumed that there would be interior pins holding it in place, and maybe even lifting it to take the pressure off the stone, right at the points where the bronze meets the granite. Well, we actually started the treatment, but I knew I had to look in the interior. We drilled a hole, and then, with a boroscope, looked inside and found out that the bronze sculpture wasn’t anchored at all. It’s the first sculpture I’ve ever encountered that had no anchors, whatsoever. Quite honestly, the next big storm actually could have caused the sculpture to topple. Once we saw that there was no pinning at all, there was absolutely no question. It was a safety hazard for the people here at the cemetery, and obviously threatened the sculpture itself. There was no question, it had to come down.
The remarkable thing was how quickly it happened. Within three days, they actually engineered the drawings, fabricated the piece, lifted the object up, secured it, reanchored it. It was remarkable. I’ve never seen anything come together so quickly, and, actually, so beautifully. It was brilliant to come up with this inner plate. International Chimney, they carried out the design beautifully. It was really engineered in a brilliant, brilliant way.
The sculpture itself is actually balanced very well. Some sculptors give care in thinking about how objects will be moved once it leaves their studio. This piece actually lifted beautifully with two single basket straps, equal length, perfectly level. It was a wonderful, wonderful pick, and we were really fortunate about that. The sculpture had been patinated before the move, so we were very, very careful to cover all the surfaces to make sure that they wouldn’t get dirty or greasy in any way.
First, when we arrived, we thought it might be stable, and we began our treatment process, which involved using a high-pressure water system for removing this corrosion. We made sure all the larger openings were sealed with lead, and the small openings, we sealed, actually, with a bronze-impregnated epoxy. Then, we were ready for, really, one of the more entertaining parts of the process, and that’s to try and patinate the sculpture to retain its aged quality.
From the very beginning of the project, Joseph Dispenza made it very clear that this was the entry to the cemetery, and that entry should represent what you’re going to find within these beautiful grounds. It was very important that they’d sort of maintain the aged quality, and still have it maintained. So, he took more of a preservation stance, rather than restoration. We tried to preserve the green appearance of the object. In order to do that, we actually have to patinate the surface a deeper green, because when it gets coated later in this process, it would become much too dark. The patination process is vital for two reasons: it adds a slight protective finish to the surface. It gains a more attractive appearance once it’s coated, but it also evens out a lot of the irregularities. We patinate the surface by heating it with a propane torch, flame hot, actually, and then spray on a patina. It induces green corrosion with the bronze surface, so it’s a very stable surface when we’re finished.
Once the sculpture is patinated and we really retain a beautiful, even green appearance, the final protective coating was applied. We selected an acrylic resin. This clear coat will protect the surface from all pollutant contact in the future, at least for the life of the coating. Since we want to try and maintain as much of the untouched, aged quality about this sculpture, we decided to use the acrylic resin.
It’s an amazing piece. The sculpture quality is fantastic. The sculptor, Hamilton, did a remarkable job. The amount of detail is phenomenal, and that was just slowly, slowly, during the conservation process, all that detail reveals itself. It’s quite remarkable to actually see the sculpture bring itself forth, so you can see the whole entity as the sculptor originally designed it. In that, also, getting a glimpse of the character that the sculptor had created.
Francis Miller: All right. Do we have any final questions?
Forest Lawn Cemetery, founded in 1850, is a 269 acre “Rural Cemetery” listed on the National Register of Historic Places The grounds contain a spectacular array of sculptures and monuments memorializing notable industrialists, merchants, financiers, politicians and members of society. Beyond the Delaware Avenue gates, lies a unique plot that contains a simple row of grave markers commemorating eight Seneca Native Americans. Behind the row of markers, is a granite monument with a crowning, 11’ 6’’ bronze sculpture of the Native American, Red Jacket.
Red Jacket (c.1750-1830), was a prominent and influential Native American Seneca chief that lead his Nation through a tremulous period in history. Known as Otetiani in his youth, he was later called Sagoyewatha, “ he who keeps them awake”, for his skillful orations. He also took the name Red Jacket for the ornately embroidered coat given to him by the British for his aid in the Revolutionary War. After British defeat, the Seneca chief led delegations to the United States capitol in Philadelphia on behalf of the Seneca and Six Nations of the Iroquois League, where he gained admiration from the president, George Washington. Washington later commissioned and gifted a large silver medal in honor of their meeting.
The heroic scale likeness of Red Jacket, sculpted by James G. C. Hamilton, was cast by Bureau Brothers Foundry of Philadelphia in 1891. Wearing ethnic clothing and Washington’s silver, the bronze figure endured nearly 120 years of harsh environmental exposure with little, to no preservation efforts. The bronze surfaces had lost all signs of original patina and were visually disfigured by contrasting corrosion compounds. Years of industrial pollution exposed the copper alloy to acidic deposition that caused significant surface loss and deep pitting. Failed foundry fills at cast joints allowed excessive water entry into the hollow interior. Additionally, the entire sculpture had drifted precariously to the back, proper left, likely due to prevailing Lake Erie winds, and was resting 3/16” over the 15’ high, Westerly, Rhode Island granite base.
ConservArt LLC conserved the sculpture in 2010. The bronze surfaces were cleaned and loose corrosion compounds removed by medium pressure water. The failed fills were removed mechanically and new fills of lead and bronze rich epoxy inserted and tooled to conform the bronze sculpture contours and textures. The green appearance was preserved and the disfiguring appearance reduced by the application of thin Cupric Nitrate patinas. The final surfaces were treated with a acrylic based, clear, protective coating.
Borescopic examination revealed no anchor system and that the sculpture had been free standing since it’s original instillation in 1891. In collaboration with the Forest Lawn Group President, Joseph P. Dispenza, and the fabricators and engineers of International Chimney Corporation, an unique 316 grade, stainless steel, anchor system was designed that distributed the load of the bronze away from the outer edges of the granite base and prevented shifting in any direction. The sculpture was lowered to the ground by crane, the anchor system installed to fit the exact contours of the bronze, and Red Jacket safely returned and secured for continued viewing.
It was an honor to treat this historic monument, the first and last to be treated without a site visit, and an honor to be present during the rededication ceremony lead by New York State Assembly member Sam Hoyt, who secured a grant for the conservation efforts. It was also a great privilege to be present during the blessing of the site by Al Parker, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca and relative of Red Jacket and Ely Parker. Our fortunate timing literally saved this remarkable sculpture from the edge of catastrophe.
Francis Miller is the principal of ConservArt LLC, Hamden, CT, with a BA in sculpture from the University of California, Davis (1984), and an MFA in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1992). The dedication to conservation was recognized by the awarded title of Professional Associate by the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), in 1999. Mr. Miller has 22 years of conservation experience treating monuments, sculptures and historic cemeteries.