OBJECTS > Historic Sculpture


Historic Sculpture

For thousands of years artists created three dimensional objects that depicted the human body, representations of animals and other cultural or spiritual forms. Norms of stylization and realistic representation varied over time and place. In North America indigenous American Indians created artworks in a variety of materials including ceramics, clay, wood and stone. Colonial American sculpture originated as a folk art in gravestones, furniture, architectural detail, and ship figureheads. (See Relief Sculpture for cemetery carvings). As the colonial nation culturally and financially developed, artists traveled to Europe to study in major artistic centers such as Florence, Rome and Paris. Subsequent sculpture followed European figurative styles lead by the established salons and academies. Sculptors typically made art in plaster, wood, stone and metal, with an emphasis on marble and bronze.

In the 19th century, outdoor sculpture proliferated with the Rural Cemetery Movement, beginning with Mount Auburn in 1831, the conclusion of the Civil War and Spanish American War, the development of urban parks, such as Central Park in 1857, and in a grand scale with the City Beautiful Movement that began at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Public sculpture continued to flourish in the beginning of the 20th century, following the World War and again during the Works Progress Administration of the Great Depression. Industrialization made the quarying, carving and trasportation of a variety of stone types possible. While marble was considered a traditional stone material, a variety of granites, Tennessee limestones, and Indiana limestones were popularized. Likewise, bronze continued to be used as the preeminent sculptural metal but cast zinc, aluminum, sheet copper and cast iron were also used

Successful conservation of historic sculpture requires appropriate research, materials analysis, planning, material selection, treatment implementation and ongoing maintenance. Given the varieties of materials, range of conditions and display settings, preservation efforts continually refocus to mitigate the problems at hand while emphasizing long term stability and future re-treatability of the object undergoing care.

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