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.
Outdoor statuary, as a whole, is exposed to an uncontrolled environment– meaning it can be at the mercy of any amount of rain, sun, wind, humidity, and temperature depending on the climate of the region. At Montpelier, in the mid-atlantic, the shifts between each season causes fluctuations in the weather and temperature. These changes can be a source of damage causing gradual cracking, full breakages, loss of detail, and granulated surface textures. Aside from the damage that can be done to the physical surfaces of statuary, the same elements also affect the surrounding natural environment. This poses a threat to statuary, considering any potential erosion or flooding can cause damage to the objects.
A column (NT2015.8.645) and a planter (NT2015.8.646) with eroded details.
An urn (2015.8.659) that is situated on a hill with its base exposed. It must be monitored for any potential damage as its base could shift, causing breakage, or the sculpture could fall entirely.
Depending on what surface a statue is in contact with, minerals can also form inside the pores or already formed cracks. This is a process that happens over a long period of time. The repetition of water raining down onto the surface and drying over and over can cause salt crystals to begin forming. At a certain point, these crystals can burst and cause cracking and decay in the structure. Marble can become more prone to this type of damage as it ages. At Montpelier, most of our statues are situated upon their original brick and concrete pedestals. Stabilization should be considered by installing materials that will give the porous stone support. Reinforcing the cracks in another consideration that could be done with a mortar mixed specifically for marble.
A pillar (NT2015.8.668) with extensive breakage– it is wrapped with chicken wire to help prevent further damage to its base until conservation can be sought out. And, a base of an urn (NT2015.8.652) which has cracks forming from underneath the statuary.
On the surface of the statuary, biological activity can begin to grow and live on the surface. The green you see staining most outdoor statues is usually algae, lichen, moss, or other organisms. The water and minerals which are within the pores of the statues can create the perfect environment for these organisms to colonize. Luckily, this staining can be removed with routine cleaning. On the flip side, continuous cleaning of marble can actually become harmful as scrubbing can be damaging to its soft surface. This is why cleaning marble statuary is typically scheduled annually and done with softer bristled brushes and less harsh cleaning products (like water or distilled cleaning agents).
Three urns (NT2015.8.648, -.656, & -.667) with various staining from biological activity.
With statues that incorporate metal like our sundial, metal corrosion is also a possibility of discoloration and damage. The prolonged exposure to the elements can cause different types of corrosion on metal surfaces, depending on what the metal type is. Oxidation is one of the most common types of metal corrosion, causing discoloration or rust. This rust can eventually leak onto the stone; staining it along with the metal. A green or brown discoloration indicates a patina– “a green or brown film that forms naturally on the surface of copper [or bronze and other metals] due to a series of chemical reactions.” The sundial, as shown below, has a mix of green and brown stain across the majority of its surface. This could be cleaned with various cleaning solutions, but it must be maintained or even waxed over after cleaning to prevent the problem from returning.
Our sundial (NT2015.8.660) with rusted and oxidized coloration changes.
Of course, on top of all of this, accidental damage can also occur. Human interaction with artifacts can always cause some form of damage. These objects are open to the public and are exposed to human contact. There are dangers of knocking into the statues, leaning against them, spilling drinks, or even touching it slightly with your hand. Our hands have natural oils on them that can increase the speed of natural degradation, especially if enough people touch the same surface over and over. The garden maintenance can also be a potential cause for concern. While our horticulturists take incredible care of the garden and statuary, there is potential risk for garden maintenance tools to scrap or nick against the statues during routine garden maintenance. This is part of the inherent risk associated with outdoor collections, however, consideration and conversation with groundskeeping staff can help mitigate possible damages.
3 statuary bases which showcase instances in which groundskeeping and conservation must intermingle to prevent further damage.
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:
- Prepare for lots of sun and heat in the summer.
- Take advantage of warm weather for surface cleaning before the Fall.
- Cover and prepare for foliage falling, rainfall, temperature drops, frost, snow, and ice.
- Take to storage if possible.
- 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.
Berry, Janet. “Assessing the performance of protective winter covers for outdoor marble statuary: pilot investigation.” The14th 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.
Alexis Atkinson, BA
Alexis joined the Curatorial and Collections department in November of 2022. She maintains and preserves the decorative arts collections on display throughout the property. She also assists the Collections Manager with research, collections projects, and the collection’s social media accounts. Alexis earned her B.A. in Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University in May of 2022