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Conservation Happening in Our Public Art Collection This Spring

Four public artworks in Dorchester and Roxbury are being conserved this month.

While bringing new public art projects to neighborhoods throughout the city is a big part of our work, we also make sure to care for existing artworks. Many of the pieces in our collection are decades or even centuries old, and investing in cleaning and repairs is crucial to ensuring the artworks remain in good condition.

In the spring of 2021, we awarded a house doctor contract to Daedalus, Inc., a local private practice in art conservation that works with us to identify and treat artworks in our collection. This spring, we’re excited to begin work on four beloved artworks in Dorchester and Roxbury.

Fern Cunningham Artworks

Fern Cunningham was a beloved Boston sculptor known for her many important and expressive bronze sculptures in the city featuring African American children, families, and notables, including Step on Board, a memorial of Harriet Tubman in the South End.

The Family Circle by Fern Cunningham
The Family Circle by Fern Cunningham

Fern’s artwork Earth Challengers: Life Children and the Hands of Time was installed at the Joseph Lee Elementary School in Dorchester in 1995, and The Family Circle was installed in Elm Hill Park in Roxbury in 1996. Her piece The Value of Life was later installed at Jeep Jones Park in 2012.

Earth Challengers: Life Children and the Hands of Time by Fern Cunningham
Earth Challengers: Life Children and the Hands of Time by Fern Cunningham

The surface of the bronze on all pieces shows signs of degradation consistent with exposure to air pollution, snow, and ice. These conditions have led to loss of surface coating and patination. Through Daedalus’ conservation of the artworks, the sculptures will be cleaned, spot-patinated, and protected with an acrylic coating. 

The Value of Life photo
The Value of Life by Fern Cunningham

Coppenhagen Fountain

The Coppenhagen Fountain by artist Albert Atkins was installed on the north side of E Cottage Street in Dorchester in 1915, next to Boston’s oldest standing house, the Blake House. Funding for the statue was donated to the City of Boston by Cambridge resident Mehitable Calef Coppenhagen, who wanted the fountain to be dedicated in memory of her parents.

After several years, the Coppenhagen Fountain fell into disrepair, and actually disappeared from the original site. Remains of the fountain were found in Franklin Park, where it was re-erected in 1979. In 1992, it was hit by a truck, and was then rebuilt and placed in Edward Everett Square.

Coppenhagen Fountain with bronze photo
The Coppenhagen Fountain by Albert Atkins

Today, the fountain no longer runs and is in need of repair. During Daedalus’ assessment, they found staining on the granite, as well as several cracked areas on the fountain. There are concerns of dislodging pieces and structural failure if the fountain goes untreated. Daedalus will perform a cleaning, stabilization, and repointing of the stone surface. They will also clean, re-coat and re-set the bronze plaque. 

The Coppenhagen Fountain

Work is scheduled to begin on the Fern Cunningham artworks on June 14, and then Daedalus will begin work on the Coppenhagen Fountain the week of June 20. 

If you have any questions about these artworks or others in our collection, we encourage you to contact us at bac@boston.gov or share your input with us via this online form.

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