Skip to Main Content

Conservation of the Shaw Memorial: The Long Journey

Shelley Sturman, senior conservator and head of the department of object conservation, National Gallery of Art. On the 100th anniversary of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial dedication in Boston, artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ original plaster version of the bronze memorial was transferred to the National Gallery of Art for full conservation treatment. On long-term loan from the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire, the magisterial Shaw Memorial (1883-1900) was previously restored many times and no longer resembled the artist’s original intentions.  In this lecture recorded on January 15, 2014, conservator Shelley Sturman reveals the long process of removing the nearly 12-by-18-foot relief sculpture from a concrete block wall, radiographing the sections, repairing cracks, analyzing the materials, preparing the appropriate decorative surface, realigning segments, and designing an appropriate mounting system for display in Washington; this treatment was performed by a team of conservators from Boston, the National Park Service, and the Gallery. Installation at the Gallery marks the ninth time that the Shaw Memorial has been dismantled and reassembled. An exhibition honoring the memorial and its inspiration on 20th- and 21st-century artists titled Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial is on view through January 20, 2014.