As the ongoing restoration of the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial on the Boston Common progresses, the sculpture’s stonework is being disassembled bit by bit before the bronze sculpture can be removed as one piece and taken off site to be refurbished.
“We’re in the process of carefully removing every stone at the plaza level – railings, urns and other elements – and last week, we took off the top of monument with the capstone,” Ben Rosenberg, a principal at the structural-engineering firm Silman Associates’ Boston office, said Friday. “Then we’ll work down, removing stones from the back and the sides.”
The approximately $3 million restoration of the bas-relief monument that pays tribute to the first Northern black volunteer infantry unit enlisted to fight in the Civil War and was created by American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens marks a unique partnership between the Friends of the Public Garden, the City of Boston, the Museum of African American History and the National Park Service.
During this phase of the project, supplemental steel will be installed within the monument itself, followed by the installation of a protection system for the existing beams within the plaza. The monument will also undergo a “cathodic protection run,” Rosenberg said, during which an electric current will be discharged through its steel beams to prevent additional corrosion (although the method can’t remedy existing conditions).
The monument will also be “retro-fitted seismically” to withstand earthquakes, Rosenberg said.
“We think about the project as having interrelated scopes that dance around each other as the work proceeds,” Rosenberg said. “To date, we’ve really concentrated on the beginning of stone removal to clean and replace it and the initial stages of bronze restoration, such as documenting and photographing [the sculpture] and protecting it in advance of taking it off site to get it restored.”
Once all the bronze work is revealed and accessible, Rosenberg added, a steel cage will be installed around the sculpture before it can be removed and transported to Skylight Studios in Woburn for refurbishing.
Restoration work on the Shaw 54th Memorial commenced at the end of May after construction restrictions due to the pandemic were lifted, and it’s expected to wrap up around November.