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Garden Statuary Care

Annie duPont Formal Garden Statuary

A small portion of the Decorative Arts Collection at James Madison’s Montpelier are outdoor statuary found within the Annie duPont Formal Garden. As a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Decorative Arts Collection stewarded by Montpelier, this collection of statuary came to the garden during the duPont family’s ownership. Annie duPont, wife of William duPont Sr. and mother to later Montpelier owner Marion duPont Scott, sought to turn the existing garden into an English-style formal garden– which included purchasing and installing all the statuary. Early images of the statuary and planters are well documented in the duPont family scrapbooks.

( L) An aerial view of the Annie duPont Formal Garden, located at James Madison's Montpelier in Orange, Virginia, with statuary locations labeled. (R) Scrapbook photos of the duPont garden during the early 20th century.

Outdoor Statuary Dilemmas:

While all of the Montpelier Decorative Arts Collection is susceptible to deterioration, the duPont statuary faces particular challenges of enduring the elements directly. Being outside in an uncontrolled environment means that there are more factors that contribute to potential damage, such as weathering and erosion agents, pollution, salt contamination, and biological activity. All of this means that taking care of outdoor collections presents unique obstacles.

All of the statues within Montpelier’s garden collection are made of marble; with the sundial including a metal material. Marble, in particular, is a porous and softer stone, making it a popular sculpting medium. A downside to this, however, is that it is prone to staining and scratching. Dirt, dust, water, and oils can more easily enter its pores and absorb into the surface; causing eventual damage if not properly maintained.

Treatment and Maintenance:

For most outdoor statuary, seasonal treatment plans, professional cleaning and maintenance, and routine garden maintenance to prevent overgrowth are the best procedures for preservation. A basic seasonal treatment plan could look something like this:

Summer

  • Prepare for lots of sun and heat in the summer.
  • Take advantage of warm weather for surface cleaning before the Fall.

Fall/Winter

  • Cover and prepare for foliage falling, rainfall, temperature drops, frost, snow, and ice.
  • Take to storage if possible.

Spring

  • Uncover when rain and cold are less frequent.
  • Garden maintenance.
  • Surface cleaning before summer.

Storage or Coverage?

It’s important to keep in mind that covering for wet and cold weather is a simple option. Storage is the best option though. At James Madison’s Montpelier, we do not currently have the capacity to store these statues every winter. When it is not feasible or practical to bring statuary inside, one consideration is creating temporary winter structures or coverings to help give the statuary protection throughout the winter weather. The two main methods for covering statues include using framed structures (wooden boxes, metal huts, or waterproof tents) to place around the statuary or close-wrapping with waterproof and insulating materials (like industrial aircraft covers or Tyvek). Both methods provide protection from wetness and frost during the winter months. Montpelier currently covers the urns in the garden with their original metal alloy covers to prevent natural waste from building up inside the body of the urn over the fall and winter months.

Above showcases an urn (NT2015.8.655) before its cover removal in the spring and after its removal with the addition of planted flowers.

For particularly weak statues, consider conservation treatment or even indoor installation. This was done for our Whippet statues (NT2015.8.671-672) back in 2018-2019. They used to reside outside the Bassett House, a building on the property, from 2010-2018. Due to major exposure to the elements they experienced a lot of surface damage. After their conservation, the statues have since been installed in the Red Room gallery. Read more about that process here.

(L) A photograph of one of the Whippet statues (NT2015.8.671-672) in 2017, prior to its conservation. (R) A photograph of one of the Whippets installed in the Red Room in 2019 after conservation.

Taking Care of Montpelier’s Statuary:

Although the garden statuary has been at Montpelier since the early 1900s, it was only recently in 2015 that these statues were formally accessioned into the Montpelier Decorative Arts Collection. As a result, the statuary has largely sat untouched in the garden. While we hope to be able to implement a more robust strategy to care for the garden statuary, we are limited in our staffing and resources – which is another struggle when taking care of outdoor collections. For now, we work closely with our Head Horticulturist to document and monitor the statuary for any pressing concerns.

Resources:

Berry, Janet. “Assessing the performance of protective winter covers for outdoor marble statuary: pilot investigation.” The 14th Triennial Meeting The Hague Preprints, Vol. II. https://www.academia.edu/5032386/Assessing_the_performance_of_protective_winter_covers_for_outdoor_marble_statuary_pilot_investigation.

Conservation and Care of Collections. Gilroy and Godfrey. Pp. 102-11. 1998. Book. “The risks facing open air sculptures in the UK.” Fine Art Restoration Company, August 26, 2021. https://fineart-restoration.co.uk/news/the-risks-facing-open-air-sculptures-in-the-uk/

Caring for Your Collections. The National Committee to Save America’s Cultural Collections and Arthur W. Schultz. Pp 122-127. 1992. Book.

Mckeachie, Manon. “Why does copper turn green?” Australian Academy of Science, June 27, 2022. https://www.science.org.au/curious/technology-future/why-does-copper-turn-green#:~:text=Scientifically%20speaking%2C%20patina%20is%20the,oxygen%20and%20weathering%20over%20time.