Did you know the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy oversees the Conservation and Collection Management of more than 1000 sculptures, reliefs, mosaics, stained glass pieces, kinetic works, paintings, and murals throughout the city? The program initiates and oversees professional conservation treatments and repairs to the Philadelphia’s public art collection—believed to be the largest and oldest collection of public art in the nation. Philadelphia’s public artworks are selected for conservation based upon severity of condition, prominence, historic and artistic significance, and importance to the local community.
The Orestes and Pylades fountain in East Fairmount Park received its first-ever conservation treatment this summer. The bronze sculpture depicts Orestes and Pylades of Greek mythology, who sit facing one another in front of a tall pedestal supporting a bust of the goddess Diana. The body of a slain lion is draped over the back of the pedestal. Orestes holds a sword in his right hand, with his left hand raised, while Pylades rests his chin on his own right hand. Read on for more details about the restoration of this artwork.
- Conservation Duration: April 1-August 21, 2019
- Conservation Team: Materials Conservation Co. LLC
- Conservation Concerns: Having stood at this location for 135 years, the Orestes and Pylades fountain had become heavily soiled and stained. The bronze was streaked and heavily oxidized while the granite base had significant areas of spalling. The original bronze Medusa medallions had been removed by vandals long ago, and losses remained on the granite base where the medallions had been. In addition, the fountain basins routinely filled with water during rain events.
- Conservation Treatment: Materials Conservation was hired to perform the treatments appropriate to address these conditions. Treatment began with mechanical repairs to Orestes’s sword. The overall bronze sculpture was then washed, corrosion was removed manually and treated chemically, and wax was applied and buffed. The granite base was treated to remove biological growth, general soiling, and staining. Drainage holes were drilled in each basin to prevent standing water. Working from an archival photo and on-site evidence, conservators sculpted a clay model of the Medusa head to create replacement bronze medallions. Once cast, the Medusa medallions were patinated, waxed, and reinstalled on the vertical sides of the granite base. While the fountain could not be returned to operation, the bronze sculpture and granite base were restored to their original glory.
- Artwork Name: Orestes and Pylades
- Artist: Carl Johan Steinhauser, Sculptor and Bureau Brothers, Foundry
- Date: 1884
- Medium: Bronze / Granite Base
- Owned By: City of Philadelphia
- Location: East Fairmount Park, Oxford Street & 33rd Street