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No stone un-conserved at Longwood Gardens

A grand fountain garden is more than hydraulics and horticulture. Longwood Gardens ensured the architecture of its Main Fountain Garden was restored to stunning effect – one stone at a time

What are the components of a grand fountain garden? Dazzling water effects powered by hydraulic calculations, an inspiring design, and a stunning landscape are all parts of an unforgettable scene. For Longwood Gardens’ Main Fountain Garden (along with many other gardens built in the European tradition), sculpture is key to the Garden’s character, lending a unique and intimate quality. Each hand-carved stone is one-of-a-kind and tells a story of both the designer’s aesthetic as well as the artisan’s hand.

Removing deteriorated masks, basins, pedestals, urns and blocks from the Pumphouse Facade
Removing deteriorated masks, basins, pedestals, urns and blocks from the Pumphouse Facade | Image: Sam Markey

As Longwood Gardens’ Fountain Revitalization Project nears completion, we thought we would take a closer look at the stonework done at our trusted partners at Dan Lepore & Sons – cataloging, cleaning, conserving and repairing more than 4,000 individual artefacts. This monumental task, like so many other components of the Fountain Revitalization, combines traditional craftsmanship with the latest advances in conservation and project management.

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The work began in the fall of 2014, with the removal of the stonework from the Garden. Twenty-five masons dedicated about 16,000 hours to the painstaking task of dismantling the already-crumbling Italian and Indiana limestone.

The cleaning process alone revealed stunning, intricate details that have not been seen for decades
The cleaning process alone revealed stunning, intricate details that have not been seen for decades

As the stone was packed and crated away, the experts at Lepore tagged individual pieces with a designated name and each crate with a QR code tracking system. This system monitored the stone’s location and its progress in the restoration process. The codes also link to an entire catalog of data on each piece, including photos, measurements and diagrams to ensure that every element returned to its precise location.

Restored Italian Limestone pedestal and urn in stunning detail
Restored Italian Limestone pedestal and urn in stunning detail | Image: Sam Markey

The first step in the conservation process was to clean the stone with a very fine water mist that removed surface dirt, followed by a micro-abrasive spray that permeated the stone without damaging the material. Next an anti-microbial solution was applied, penetrating even more deeply into the pores and dissolving any bacteria that may weaken and damage the stone.    

Restored stonework back home in the Main Fountain Garden
Restored stonework back home in the Main Fountain Garden | Image: B Hill

Next comes repair. Depending on the needs of the individual piece, conservators choose from cementitious patching, pinned crack repairs, stone Dutchmen (hand-carved limestone pieces that replace damaged sections) and full stone replacements. As a final step, a material called a consolidant that strengthens and protects the stone is applied to help guard against future damage.

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In all, 4,282 pieces of limestone were restored and 814 pieces created to replace those beyond repair. Many of the new pieces were created uses the same vein of limestone of the original works. The stone has returned to the Garden and is ready to greet guests when the Main Fountain Garden performs again beginning May 27 2017. For details about the debut Summer of Spectacle, visit longwoodgardens.org.

 

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