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When one thinks of sculpture maintenance, it is usually works of art located in public spaces outdoors, but sometimes sculpture maintenance involves works of art installed indoors. One such sculpture is The Town Ho’s Story, 1993 by Frank Stella located in the lobby of Ralph Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago. The site is not too far from a painted outdoor sculpture treatment of Alexander Calder’s Flamingo performed by McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory in 2012.

Over the years, despite past treatment, the surface of The Town Ho’s Story has been impacted by settled dusts, and it was in need of sculpture maintenance.

The title and sculptural elements are inspired by several chapters in the novel Moby Dick. The Town Ho’s Story is a complex work of art. It is a large abstract sculpture of various reclaimed materials including: steel, aluminum, aluminum honeycomb, paint, steel mesh, metal rod, paint, and foam. An iridescent metallic paint even coats some areas of the twisted metal. The different elements are assembled together, creating both a chaotic but strong form, towering nearly twenty feet in the air.

While the complexity of the sculpture by Frank Stella creates visual interest, and arguably, invites provocation, it also creates some difficulty in performing sculpture maintenance. Simply put, the sculpture is tall and has a lot going on. It is also somewhat challenging to reach all surface areas for routine sculpture maintenance. As mentioned, the artwork is also installed in the very busy lobby of a federal building, so weekend work was required to avoid affecting daily activities.

Conservators Marcin Pikus and Christina L. Simms traveled to perform the sculpture maintenance in Chicago. Working from a scissor lift, Pikus and Simms used a HEPA filter vacuum as well as microfiber dusters on extension poles for internal areas. For especially delicate areas, a brush was used in combination with a low-pressure HEPA filter vacuum. A selective aqueous cleaning was also performed in areas that were especially impacted by dirt.

After treatment, the surface was clear of dust and debris. The outlines of the forms were clearer, and the colors of the painted surfaces were once again bright.

Frank Stella is an internationally recognized artist. He was born in 1936 in Massachusetts, and now lives and works in New York City. Stella has worked as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor. The Town Ho’s Story is just one of many artworks by Stella which is inspired by Moby Dick The style of The Town Ho’s Story is also indicative of other works by Frank Stella such as Peekskill, 1995 at Ernst-Abbe-Platz in Jena, Germany and Stella, Amabel (Flowering Structure), 1997 at the Posco Center in Seoul, South Korea.

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