Community volunteers tend to sculptures

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

It may not have seemed like spring Saturday with the brisk winds and 50-degree temperature, but members of the Liberty Hill Development Foundation Board, the Liberty Hill Garden Club and other volunteers gathered to give the sculptures a good spring cleaning.

The Foundation Board contracted with a conservator to visit the sculpture park at Liberty Hill Intermediate School and spend the day instructing volunteers on the techniques and important dos and don’ts of cleaning the many sculptures in the park.

“We think this is real important,” said Development Foundation Board President Larry Floyd. “Our main focus is taking care of the (Lions Foundation) park, keeping it mowed, things like that, but then long-term this is the most important thing to Liberty Hill. It can be turned into an attraction for people to come and see, so we need to protect it.”

The first step in protecting it is keeping it clean and free of the biological growth most known to damage stone statues. The tiny organisms grow on the surface of the sculptures and have roots that bore into the pores of the stone. These organisms will take all the moisture from the stone, potentially causing cracks and failures, as well as discoloring the sculptures.

The cleaning solution, specifically purposed for cleaning stone is called D2 Solution, and is used by the federal government on many historic structures, statues and even grave markers in veteran cemeteries.

“It basically breaks down the biological growth,” said Izabella Dennis, an architectural conservator and historian from Austin. “These are organisms with tiny microscopic roots that go into the pores of the stone. It is really a not very sophisticated way of cleaning that helps you prevent some really big problems.”

The solution is non-toxic and biodegradable and is designed to be left on the sculptures. The process for cleaning, as explained by Dennis, who has 15 years experience in sculpture conservation, was to ensure the stone was wet, then apply the solution and scrub gently with a brush with natural fibers before rinsing again. Once this process is done twice, the solution can be sprayed on and left to work over time. The process does not clean the pieces immediately, but Dennis said results should begin to show in two to four weeks. Once the initial cleaning is completed, she said it should be done every 18 to 24 months.

The cleaning process has had many steps and taken a lot of time to get to. This is the first time such a cleaning has taken place in the sculptures’ 40-plus year history. The process began by getting the works appraised and having a specialist come out and evaluate what was needed to care for the sculptures.

“We got a grant through a group associated with the Smithsonian for $3,900 to have a conservator to do an inspection and let us know what needed to be done,” Floyd said. “Our first quote was about $14,000 to have someone spend a couple of weeks working on a pair of statues, teaching the group how to clean the statues.”

Knowing that amount was not possible with such a high budget, the board reached out to the University of Texas Art Department and came up with the current plan that costs about $4,000 for having Dennis assist as well as purchasing the materials and solution for cleaning.

Floyd said the sculptures were appraised in December 2016, and their net worth is about $1.7 million.

He was excited over the turnout Saturday and to see things moving forward.

“It’s exciting to be moving forward today and to see more people coming out today to help,” he said. “That’s a good start for us. We just want to start this process and try to get more people involved.”

The Garden Club, which showed up Saturday to help with the cleaning itself, also donated the first check in a total contribution of $1,750 toward this project.

Floyd emphasized the need for future help from additional volunteers, pointing out that there are at least 27 statues the organization believes it can clean with the D2 Solution.

“If you could clean one a day, you know, there’s probably two months of work if someone was at it all the time,” he said.

The next step for the foundation board is to begin working on other ways to raise funds for more work in the park relating to the sculptures.

“We’re trying to learn to do grant writing,’ he said. “We want to get that going to possibly get some funding from some outside sources.”

The treasure of the sculptures in Liberty Hill, according to Dennis, is about art, but also about just having something unique to enjoy.

“This is about being able to come out and experience something different,” she said. “It may be subconsciously understanding the capability of these materials such as limestone, which is local to this region.”

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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