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Nathan Hale statue in Hartford restored to original shiny bronze

The corroded green and black-streaked statue of Connecticut’s state hero Nathan Hale that has stood in front of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford since 1893, has been cleaned and now can be seen in its original shiny bronze.

Casey Mallinckrodt, objects conservator at the Atheneum, said this is possibly the first time the statue, which has endured rain, hail, sleet, snow and increasingly polluted air for 128 years, has been cleaned.

“In the ’30s there is documentation of a correspondence regarding the potential treatment of the statue, but record keeping was very poor at that time, so it may or may not have been treated,” she said.

Enoch Smith Woods designed the statue in 1889 as part of a state-run competition to honor Hale. Woods did not win the contest, but Atheneum trustee James J. Goodwin liked Woods’ design and in 1892 commissioned him to make the 8-foot-tall statue.

The restoration was done by Francis Miller, directing conservator of Conserve ART. The work was financed by a $50,000 grant from the Orange-based Avangrid Foundation.

“It was not severely damaged. It had the usual corrosion that occurs when any bronze object of that age was placed in an outside environment,” Mallinckrodt said.

In addition to the weather, industrialization took its toll on statue of the Coventry native who was executed as a spy at age 21 during the American Revolution in 1776.

“Coal-fired furnaces, manufacturing, building of the highways, that exacerbates it,” she said. “Since the industrial era, there are a lot more chemicals in the atmosphere and in the rain.”

The statue had shifted on its granite base, so now it is bolted down. “There’s a huge amount of vibration on Main Street with the trucks and cars. It was quite close to the edge,” Mallinckrodt said.

The work included adding polymer and wax coatings. “It can be waxed again in five to 10 years. It helps prolong the life. It’s a great solution for protecting the object,” she said.

 

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