Public art should be, as the name implies, available to the public. But sometimes public access to art is not healthy for the art. Take the case of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN carved in white marble by Jacques Jouvenal and erected in 1889. The sculpture of the first Postmaster General of the United States is located on the plaza in front of the Old Post Office Tower, now the Trump International Hotel, in Washington, DC. This outdoor sculpture is easily approachable by people passing by and is a popular spot for taking pictures. Unfortunately, the statue is often touched and climbed on, resulting in a need for sculpture conservation. Some people have even made it to the top; no small stunt since the sculpture tops out at 19 feet!
Human contact has resulted in soiling, particularly on the pedestal, but also splashes of candle wax and a paper sticker. Non-human contact also had an impact as well. Several wasp nests were found under the back of the coat, moss was found in one of the joints between the blocks of the pedestal, and the underside of the right arm and the book held by Franklin in his left hand exhibited a green film of algae.
Marcin Pikus, Conservator of Stone Sculpture and Architectural Features, and Curtis McCartney, Conservation Assistant of McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory headed to DC to perform routine maintenance and to do a condition assessment of previous stone conservation that was performed by Marcin Pikus during October 2014. That prior treatment was extensive and involved removal of black crusts, structural stabilization, and cosmetic fills. The duo has teamed up before to perform sculpture conservation and marble conservation.
Maintenance required cleaning with a biocide and pressure washing the stone surfaces with hot water. This removed the soiling, the sticker, the wasp nests, and the algae. The candle wax needed a little more attention and was reduced with mild solvents and a scrub brush.
Past repairs to both the marble sculpture and to the stone pedestal were still structurally stable and in good shape. Because the sculpture is in a public and accessible location, regular, frequent inspections should take place so that any undesired alterations can be addressed immediately.