Restored Key Monument Rededicated

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The Francis Scott Key Monument, once again a gleaming beacon in Baltimore, Maryland, was rededicated on September 11, 1999, to celebrate its restoration, funded by Target Stores, a community group, and local government agencies. The rededication ceremony was held in the afternoon. at the monument’s site at Eutaw Place and Lanvale Street, and the Friends of The Francis Scott Key Monument hosted a community picnic afterward.

Saving the Key
Baltimore, known as the "Monumental City," was the first U.S. city to design a comprehensive program to preserve its outdoor bronze monuments, which required thorough advance analysis and planning to ensure appropriate and effective results. The bronze figures of the Key Monument were phased into the Baltimore Bronze Project in 1984. Periodic protective wax coatings over the past 15 years helped impede the deterioration of the bronzes; however, the monument did not receive comprehensive conservation treatment.

In 1996 members of the Bolton Hill neighborhood began a fundraising and community awareness program with the goal of restoring the city-owned Key Monument. The monument, despite periodic maintenance, had become a neighborhood eyesore. The pool was filled with trash rather than water, one of the boat’s oars was missing, and green stains from bronze corrosion marred the white marble. The bronze figures and reliefs were suffering from exposure to the elements, with the once gleaming Columbia now covered in algae and black crust.

By the summer of 1997 the neighbors, reorganized into the "Friends of the Francis Scott Key Monument," had coordinated their efforts with the City of Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP). The "Friends" raised nearly $10,000 and secured a $10,000 grant from the Maryland Military Monuments Commission; however, this amount fell far short of the $125,000 conservation cost.

Last summer, Save Outdoor Sculpture!, an initiative of Heritage Preservation and the National Museum of American Art, announced the contribution of more than $62,000 by Target Stores for the monument’s conservation. Funds raised by the "Friends" in combination with funding from the City of Baltimore covered remaining conservation costs.

As part of her Save America's Treasures tour in July 1998, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the Key Monument of the significance of preserving sculpture for future generations. The First Lady applauded the SOS! Conservation Treatment Awards, an unprecedented partnership among Save Outdoor Sculpture!, Target Stores and the National Endowment for the Arts. A minimum of one sculpture in all fifty states and the District of Columbia will receive conservation treatment through these awards.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and representatives of the White House Millennium Council’s Save America’s Treasures program, the Maryland Military Monuments Commission, Balitmore City’s Commission of Historic and Architectural Preservation, the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Society of 1812, and the Friends of The Francis Scott Key Monument attended the rededication. Dennis Fiori, President of the Maryland Historical Society and Vice Chairperson of the Heritage Preservation Board of Directors, represented Heritage Preservation at the event.

The monument portrays the poet, in bronze, with a manuscript of his poem, which became the national anthem. Bronze relief panels depict the bombardment of Fort McHenry and its guns and ramparts. Key stands in a marble boat, manned by a bronze sailor, perched atop the crest of a marble wave. The poet offers his manuscript to the bronze figure of Columbia, who commands a prominent position in the monument’s composition.

Charles Marburg gave $25,000 to his brother Theodore to commission a monument to his favorite poet, Francis Scott Key, prior to his death in 1907. The French sculptor Marius Jean Antonin Mercie was the selected artist. At the time, Mercie was known for European sculptures as well as the Robert E. Lee (1890) equestrian bronze in Richmond, Virginia, and collaboration on General Lafayette (1891) in the District of Columbia.

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Treatment and Maintenance
Conservation professional Steven Tatti of SAT, Inc., began treatment of the Key Monument in late April and finished in July 1999. Mr. Tatti has 25 years of sculpture conservation experience, including caring for many of the Baltimore bronzes. The treatment entailed two primary aspects:

  • The bronze figures and plaques were cleaned of dirt and residue from former coatings and primers with controlled chemical removal, bicarbonate of soda and high-pressure water. A chemical patina was applied to restore the traditional bronze color, followed by a protective hot wax coating. The missing boat oar and oar locks were recast and affixed to the boat.

  • Marble and granite components of the sculpture were cleaned of blue-green corrosion stains and organic stains brown through the use of poultices and pressurized water. The masonry joints were repointed with matching mortar. Finally, two conservation methods were used to correct areas of stone loss. For small losses, a composite mortar patch was applied to the surface. Larger losses, such as those to the urn, flag and boat edge, were replaced with matching stone, inset and carved to conform to the surrounding surface and configuration.

After treatment, the fountain’s mechanical components were repaired; it will operate seasonally once the drought is over. Maintenance procedures were also outlined for the city so as to extend the life of the Key Monument for future generations. A group is being formed to oversee maintenance, and an endowment is being raised to defray the annual expense of fountain operation and park maintenance.

For more information, contact SOS! by e-mail at SOS! or by phone at 202-634-1422 or 888-767-7285.

Photo credit for "after": ©Ron Solomon

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