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Outdoor Sculpture Conservation:


The FORCE was with us. No more.

For seven years nearly exactly, (August 11, 2011- August 25, 2018) the graceful, GSA commissioned sculpture, FORCE ONE: CONSCIOUSNESS IS CRUCIAL, lived with us at our conservation facility, stored in the field behind our sculpture work yard; erect, enduring repetitions of four-month seasons, passing through all those hours of the days and nights, seeing so many dawns and dusks, and standing steady over the comings and goings of other monumental outdoor sculpture in temporary storage here.

The Force Was With Us (photograph by Marcin Pikus)

Conservators of art enjoy an experience few can: to live with artworks for extended periods of time; frequently in sight, through various times of day and seasons. Some artworks have so much thought put into them that substantial time is needed for them to reveal themselves, reveal the most subtle aspects of their beauty and their meanings.

And so it was with John (Paul) Rietta’s FORCE ONE: CONSCIOUSNESS IS CRUCIAL. Over seven years the sculpture was still a sight to see, for us to ponder and enjoy.

The sculpture became a frequent subject for photography by stone conservator Marcin Pikus. Particularly stunning were his captures of effects at dawns.

On Saturday morning, August 25, 2018, it left us for its return “home;” delivered and re-erected the following Sunday morning under the guidance of Emmett Lodge. “Home” is the Richard H. Poff Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Roanoke, Virginia. The young sculptor, then only 33 years old, was commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to produce a site-specific sculpture for the building in 1976. His design in FORCE ONE complemented the heavy curved concrete corners of the architecture.

(photograph by Marcin Pikus)
(photograph by Marcin Pikus)

But art is a lighting rod for public opinion, and like many modern sculptural commissions it was not ignored; instead it became the subject of many strong opinions, press reports and letters to editors.

Whether positive or negative, it is good art gets the public’s minds alive with considerations and discussions.

Extensive renovations to the Poff Federal Building caused the need for the temporary removal and off-site storage of the artwork. McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory undertook the task of removal and return and provided to the government cost-free, unlimited storage.

Though relatively young at the time of the commission of FORCE ONE: CONSCIOUSNESS IS CRUCIAL, John Rietta was creating ambitious works in the later 1970’s. He was known as an expert fabricator, taught fabrication and though FORCE ONE was fabricated by a shop by others, the shop fabricators were impressed with the artist’s determination that it could be done.

He lived a short life, though, dying while in Rome in 1982 at the age of 39. His major works stand outdoors in Charlotte, NC; Birmingham, AL; Huntington, WV; the University of Alabama; and Purdue University in Lafayette, IN.

Carefully placing the first and largest section onto the trailer for the trip to Roanoke.
Emmett Lodge deftly operating our crane in loading the narrow-necked steel sculpture.
Emmett Lodge and Marcin Pikus consider safe and strategic rigging for safely hoisting the narrow-necked steel sculpture.
August 2011: Robert Lodge, Emmett Lodge and Curtis McCartney prepare to lift FORCE ONE: CONSCIOUSNESS IS CRUCIAL for bolting onto its temporary timbers.
Weathering steel (Cor-ten) must be stored outdoors with full and even exposure. Thus the sculpture needed to be stored erect. For temporary storage the sculpture was bolted to heavy timbers.
FORCE ONE: CONSCIOUSNESS IS CRUCIAL erected for long-term storage.
Back in Roanoke, the largest of the two sections is stood up before lifting and swinging over the fence for placement in front of the Poff Federal Building.
On Sunday, August 26, 2018, FORCE ONE: CONSCIOUSNESS IS CRUCIAL was returned to its original placement and on its original concrete footer.
Back in its original location, FORCE ONE: CONSCIOUSNESS IS CRUCIAL awaits landscaping.
April 2000: sculpture conservator Thomas Podnar elevated the bottom of the sculpture by welding on steel “feet” to keep the steel bottom slightly above landscape mulch to prevent advancing corrosion.
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