Indiana University

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Last modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Restoring IU icons

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Two Indiana University Campus Sculptures Receive Major Facelift

To see a photo gallery on the restoration of the sculpture Peau Rouge Indiana, go to

Dec. 5, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- If the giant art sculptures in front of Indiana University's Musical Arts Center (MAC) and Art Museum look a little brighter these days, it isn't the light playing tricks. The two campus landmarks recently underwent a thorough restoration process revitalizing the statues to their original luster.

Peau Rouge Indiana -- located in front of the MAC -- and the Indiana Arc seen in front of the Art Museum were transformed through the combined efforts of many people throughout Indiana University and the restoration companies hired for the tasks.

"It's such a pleasure to walk by the statues now," said Heidi Gealt, director of the Indiana University Art Museum. "They're just gorgeous!"

The arduous projects presented many challenges for IU Art Conservator Margaret Contompasis -- who has been working on the project for more than two years -- to overcome.

"It was a very technically difficult project," said Contompasis of the Peau Rouge Indiana project.

The sculpture was created specifically for the MAC by legendary sculptor Alexander Calder in what would be his final site-specific work. The piece was completed in 1970 and last restored in the 1980's when then IU President John Ryan sent a plane to pick up specific paint provided by the Calder Foundation. A dinner was scheduled at the MAC before the Oaken Bucket game, and the primer on the statue at the time was too close to Purdue gold for Ryan's comfort.

The most recent restoration didn't involve a rushed plane trip, but it was long and difficult nonetheless. Monumental Calder pieces are typically disassembled and flown to the Calder Foundation for restoration. But Peau Rouge Indiana is welded together and cannot be taken apart. Contompasis brought in consultants and restoration companies for over 18 months before finding two with the experience, time and manpower necessary for stripping and painting the statue -- Specialty Systems Inc. and Venus Bronze Works.

It took two months to remove seven layers of paint over 5,500 square feet of the statue's surface. And because some of the paint still contained lead from the early 1970's, special care was required. The crews battled pH problems, heat conditions and tight working spaces to finish the job on time.

"Both crews gave monumental efforts to get the projects done correctly and in a reasonable time frame. They really get my gratitude," said Contompasis.

And if the Peau Rouge Indiana restoration project wasn't enough, the decision was made to concurrently restore Charles O. Perry's 1995 piece Indiana Arc before President Michael McRobbie's inauguration ceremony.

The second project had its own entirely different set of challenges. Contompasis sought to accommodate the artist's wishes by using specific bridge paint for the job. Working outdoors in a university setting with thick paint was a challenging problem solved by using a low-pressure spraying system. But first, the sculpture had to be stripped of "cosmetic filling material" used for touchups over the years. The surface was then refilled, finished and painted while structural issues were addressed making the top of the arc more perfectly rounded and draining water that had accumulated within.

After all of the hard work, the projects were completed on time, and to the satisfaction of all involved. So was it worth the effort?

"No university education is complete without exposure and study of art. Art is not only the grace note or icing on the cake. It is the cake itself; or a primary ingredient within it," said Gealt. "It brought out the best of IU. Everyone worked so well together for a common goal, from Vice President Terry Clapacs and Assistant Vice President Linda Hunt, to (University Architect) Robert Meadows and (IU Jacobs School of Music) Dean Gwyn Richards. The whole team gave their time and interest wholeheartedly. It's been 'win-win.' The university invested time and money and in so doing, it not only made the campus more beautiful, it restored and preserved a national treasure."

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