For thousands of years sculptors 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 the United States, uniquely American sculpture originated as a folk art in colonial gravestones, furniture, architectural detail, and ship figureheads. As the nation developed, artists traveled to Europe to study in major art centers such as Florence, Rome and Paris. Formal indoor sculpture followed European styles lead by the salons and academies. These works consisted of a variety of materials including plaster, wood, stone and metal, with an emphasis on marble and bronze.
The Rural Cemetery Movement, beginning with Mount Auburn in 1831, the conclusion of the Civil War and subsequent wars, the development of urban parks, such as Central Park in 1857, and the City Beautiful Movement that began at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, and the Works Progress Administration of the Great Depression, all lead to the proliferation of public sculpture, much incorporated into larger monuments. Exterior sculpture primarily consisted of stone and bronze with additional sculpture in sheet copper, zinc and cast iron.
Successful conservation requires appropriate research, planning, material selection, treatment implementation and ongoing maintenance. Given the varieties of materials, range of conditions and differing display settings, preservation efforts continually evolve to mitigate the problems at hand while emphasizing long term stability and future re-treatability.