Pegasus, Vincent Pilz
Memorial Hall, Philadelphia, PA
In 1863, Austrian sculptor Vincent Pilz created Pegasus Tamed by the Muses Erato and Calliope, a pair of bronze sculptures for the Vienna Opera House. However, the sculptures were deemed to be out-of-scale with the building, and the government ordered them to be removed and melted down. Instead, the pieces were purchased by Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist Robert H. Gratz for the newly-formed Fairmount Park. In 1871, the sculptures were separated into pieces and shipped to America. In 1876, the works were installed in front of Memorial Hall in time for the Centennial Exposition.
Nearly 150 years later, Materials Conservation was brought in to investigate the interior armature for structural integrity and safety concerns after a crack developed in one of the horses’ legs. Given no existing documentation, extensive and creative investigatory tactics were employed.
Before conservation got underway, MC ordered a laser scan to generate 3D images for the structural engineer to use while designing the new armature. With that knowledge the real restoration work began. The sculptures were taken apart piece by-piece and removed from their pedestals. However, once disassembled we found that the armature could not be removed as planned. Instead we designed and fabricated custom stainless steel splints to augment the existing armature. Corroding iron bolts were replaced with golf-ball sized stainless steel fasteners. To mitigate future corrosion, high tech coatings were applied to all surfaces of the skeleton. The deteriorated cast iron grid that anchored the sculptures to their granite bases was replaced with stainless steel. Finally, the sculptures were reassembled, one element at a time, requiring a telehandler to lift the massive pieces into place while MC technicians fitted them together precisely.
One of the most challenging conservation projects in Materials Conservation history, the restoration and stabilization of the Pegasus Sculptures garnered a Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.