Historic Fountain Conservation, Public Art Conservation:

It is good to be a historic monument and fountain specialist like Senior Art Conservator Thomas Podnar. The specialized expertise of our conservation staff provides McKay Lodge Conservation with the opportunity to perform fountain restoration in the Midwest and across the United States and its territories. A recent project took us to the Northeast to perform maintenance of a fountain in Boston, Massachusetts.

Mary Miss, Cascading Wall Fountain, 1986, before treatment

Located in the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Federal Building, is a large fountain by Mary Miss Cascading Wall Fountain, 1986. The commanding fountain is composed of many different materials including painted wood, bare wood panels, painted aluminum, and bare aluminum panels. When the fountain is in operation, water cascades down the back of the bare aluminum wall, flowing into two pool trays, before the water seemingly disappears into the floor as it cascades down the semi-circular wall of aluminum at the front of the artwork.

The artwork by Mary Miss serves as a focal in the large multi-story public atrium, but over the years, inevitable corrosion of the metal and failure of the coatings became visually apparent. After performing a condition assessment, conservators Thomas Podnar and Christina L. Simms returned to perform a conservation treatment on the fountain. First, sample products were selected and applied to ensure the correct color and finish were recreated. These samples were reviewed with General Services Administration (GSA) representatives and the color was also approved by the artist.  Due to the public and indoor location of the artwork, the work was completed at night and water-based products with low VOCs were used.  Once the coatings were approved, it was time to prepare the surface.

Conservator Christina L. Simms removes corrosion and flaking paint

Surface preparation was completed to industry standards set by the Society of Protective Coatings (SSPC) and National Association for Corrosion Engineers (NACE), removing as much of the loose material and corrosion as possible to create an optimal surface for applying coatings. This process consisted of removing failed putty, cracking joins, loose corrosion, flaking paint, and other surface issues with handtools. Considering the age of the piece and multiple materials used, these condition issues are expected.

During treatment, all cracks and loss are filled

Surface preparation took several nights for the nearly two story fountain, but once this step was complete all areas were filled with wall compound or caulk as needed. Cracks or open joints when filled with these materials create an even and flush surface for painting. A final sanding is performed on the repaired areas for a perfectly smooth surface. Surface preparation is a critical step to ensure the maximum service life of the coatings. If done thoroughly and correctly, the final painted surface appears seamless.

Once the surfaces were cleared of dust and debris and the wood panels were washed, the repaired areas were primed. Paint was then applied with rollers and brushes in flat black, metallic silver, semi-gloss black, orange, and blue.  Repaired areas and faded coatings gradually disappeared as the new colors were applied, returning the artwork by Mary Miss to an appearance similar to when it was first installed.

The treatment was a success in that art conservators were able to address condition issues while preserving the overall aesthetic and original materials as much as possible. An after treatment image reveals a surface that is renewed in appearance. Senior Conservator Thomas Podnar, also provided instructions and fountain maintenance recommendations to building staff to begin operation of the fountain. So if you find yourself on Causeway Street in Boston, take a moment to enjoy the sounds and colors of Cascading Wall Fountain by Mary Miss.

Mary Miss, Cascading Wall Fountain, 1986, after treatment

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