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Expert restores statue of Jesus

TORI ROECK | Wednesday, December 4, 2013


A pedestal reading “Venite ad me omnes,” Latin for “Come to me everyone,” still stands on God Quad, but the invitation currently lacks a speaker.

The pedestal normally supports the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, which has stood there since 1893, according to the Notre Dame archives, but this image of Jesus was removed in late November for restoration.

Charles Loving, director and curator of the George Rickey Sculpture Archive at the Snite Museum of Art, said he put the University in touch with Thomas Podnar, a sculpture conservator from the McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory in Oberlin, Ohio. Podnar is to restore the Sacred Heart of Jesus and three other campus statues: Notre Dame (Our Mother) at the north end of Notre Dame Avenue, Father Sorin on God Quad and Thomas Dooley near the Grotto.

Loving said the University reached out to the outside conservator because he will be better equipped to meet their restoration goals.

“If we had done nothing, it would have just rusted out and collapsed, so [the number] one [goal of the restoration is] to ensure its long-term preservation,” Loving said. “[The number] two [goal is] to make it look like what it looked like initially.”

Loving said Podnar restored the other three campus images without removing them, but the Sacred Heart of Jesus Statue had to be transported to Ohio for proper refurbishing because it had suffered extensive damage from “weather and age.”

“There’s probably some atmospheric fall of pollutants from places like Gary, Ind., and East Chicago, but primarily just weather,” Loving said. “Like an old car, eventually the paint will wear off. Many of the sculptures are not painted metal. Many are cast bronze, but that particular one is cast iron.” 

Because the Sacred Heart of Jesus Statue is painted, most of the restoration entails stripping paint from the statue, repairing cracks in it and repainting it, Loving said.

“The paint is coming off and in places it’s cracking, so it was removed,” he said. “They’ll chemically take off the paint. They’ll repair the cracks by welding them and somehow finishing them so the welds don’t show, and then they’ll repaint it.”

Loving said Podnar will attempt to recreate the original paint color of the statue, which will look quite different from the weathered version the campus is accustomed to seeing when the statue returns next February.

“It might be a little shocking to some people, but in the long term it’ll be good for it to have been preserved so it’s there for future generations,” he said. “It’s something that any sculpture requires over time. It doesn’t suggest any deficiency in the way it was manufactured or the way it’s been taken care of. It’s just part of the process.”

Even though restoration is an important part of maintaining outdoor statues, Loving said the University does not have its statues restored very often. He said he believes this is the first time since 1893 the statue has been repaired. 

Within the past five years, members of the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Gettysburg noticed damage on the statue of Fr. William Corby outside Corby Hall, a copy of which also stands in Gettysburg, and raised funds to restore it, Loving said.

“It’s kind of nice when people who are alums or friends of Notre Dame recognize the need and come up with the money,” he said. “As far as I know there’s no existing budget line to take care of these statues.”

Contact Tori Roeck at vroeck@nd.edu