"I have been the more particular
in this description of my journey that you may compare such unlikely beginnings
with the figure I have since made there." So wrote Benjamin Franklin
to his son, words that appear at the base of a bronze monument on the
Penn campus that depicts the University's Founder as a lad just starting
out, with his rucksack, wide-legged gait, and walking stick. He strides
ahead, clear-eyed and resolute, a young man leaving his boyhood behind.
It is as much a tribute to youth as to Franklin -- and a fitting inspiration
to students just setting out on their own life paths. At least the Class
of 1904 thought so, when they dedicated the sculpture and its surrounding
plaza on the occasion of their 10th Reunion.
Unfortunately, the figure of Benjamin Franklin in
1723 "made there" by sculptor R. Tait McKenzie did not
age as gracefully as its real-life counterpart. Standing outside Weightman
Hall for 80-odd years, it was dirty and green -- and quite crusty, albeit
in a different fashion than the man who inspired it. It needed a bath
-- and some good old-fashioned TLC (something the pleasure-loving, flesh-and-blood
Franklin would have readily endorsed).
Recently, young Ben got his bath and more, thanks to
a donor from Harvard (of all places) and a five-year program at Penn to
clean and conserve the University's bronze outdoor sculptures, which entered
its fourth year in July. Spearheaded by Jacqueline Jacovini, GFA'84,
associate curator of Penn's art collection and herself a sculptor, the
project began tentatively in 1992 with an informal survey of sculptures
on campus conducted by Jacovini and interested volunteers, under the direction
of the Washington, D.C.-based Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!), a national
organization jointly administered by the Smithsonian Institution and the
National Institute for Conservation of Cultural Property (now Heritage
Preservation). Following the survey, Jacovini talked with local experts
on bronze -- Philadelphia is home to many, she notes -- about the potential
for the project, and obtained recommendations on conservators. In 1994
the selected contractor, Norton Art Conservation, Inc., of Lafayette Hill,
Pa., formally reviewed 19 outdoor bronze sculptures and monuments on the
immediate Penn campus and, together with Jacovini, assessed the current
condition of and work needed for each.
|Charles Lenning, John J. boyle, 1900. (Left)
sculpture before treatment and (right) after treatment. This bust,
which usually stands behind College hall, has been temporarily removed
during construction of the Perelman Quad.
A bust of Charles Lennig, a major benefactor
of the University in the late 19th century, created in 1900 by John J.
Boyle a year after the artist sculpted the stately seated Franklin in
front of College Hall, served as a convincing test case. (This bust, which
usually stands behind College Hall, has been temporarily removed during
construction of the Perelman Quad.) Jacovini used the Lennig piece, conserved
in 1995, to demonstrate to Penn administrators the significance of the
project and the impact bronze conservation would have campus-wide. "It
was truly before-and-after, night-and-day -- and it was amazing,"
she explains. "Here you had this powdery, chalky, greenish-white,
ghoulish-looking bust that all of a sudden came to life. I had never noticed
before how beautifully sculpted it was." Others noticed too, such
that the project got the go-ahead and a dedicated fund was set up within
the University to provide for a five-year program of conservation and
In the case of the youthful Franklin sculpture, Albert
H. Gordon, an alumnus of Harvard University's Class of 1923, was attending
Penn's Heptagonals in 1997 when he found the sculpture's condition "atrocious,"
and was appalled that the monument had fallen into such disrepair. Despite
his having "never agreed with" Franklin or his philosophies,
recalls Audrey B. Schnur, C'89, director of major gifts for athletics,
Gordon decided to fund conservation and restoration of the monument and
its surrounding plaza in honor of his friend, Gerald H. McGinley, W'52,
a former Mungerman and long-time Penn supporter and winner of a 1998 Alumni
Award of Merit.
January/February Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1999 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 1/5/99