Bronze Age shines on Eutaw Place

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Steven Tatti rescues Francis Scott Key, and Baltimore keeps its monumental commitment.

September 05, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

When art conservator Steven Tatti saw the Francis Scott Key Monument earlier this year, he says, it reminded him of "a public urinal or bath." Covered in trash and graffiti, with a broken fountain and cracked cement, it had been neglected for years.

Now, after a few months in the hands of his small crew of restoration experts, it's back in all its glory.

And this Saturday at 3 p.m., preservationists, history buffs and others will gather to celebrate completion of the group's $125,000 restoration of the monument on Eutaw Place at Lanvale Street in the Bolton Hill historic district.

"This was a complete restoration," Tatti says. "We really took it back to the way it was. There's nothing else in Baltimore that has received such comprehensive treatment."

Tatti's group hauled away tons of trash and rubble; cleaned and applied a protective wax coating over the bronze figures and plaques; cleaned, repaired and removed stains from white marble; cleaned and repaired the granite wall surrounding a fountain at the base; and applied gold leaf to two plaques.

The work began the third week of May and was finished by the middle of July. One of the most time-consuming tasks was removing -- with a variety of poultices and solutions -- rust, dirt and algae embedded in the marble. The conservators also had to cast a bronze oar to replace one that had disappeared. Tatti notes with pride that, except for putting up scaffolding and repairing the fountain's plumbing, everything was completed by his own crew of four, which includes former Baltimoreans Robert and Judith Pringle.

Tatti's work in Baltimore began in 1981, when the city launched a program to restore 14 monuments in historic Mount Vernon. After that, the city hired him to restore bronzes in other parts of the city, and then to work on other types of monuments.

Since then, Tatti's group has helped restore more than 50 statues and other works of sculpture in Baltimore, ranging from Antoine Barye's delicate bronzes in Mount Vernon Place to the large mounted figure of the Marquis de Lafayette near Charles and Madison streets.

Tatti lives in New York and works out of a brownstone in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. He travels to different cities as they engage his services, often pulling together the same team of specialists to work with him. His father, a professional sculptor and restorer, oversees his office.

When he began restoring outdoor monuments in Baltimore, Tatti says, "we were pretty much a pilot program. No other city was addressing it with any comprehensive overview."

Since then, he says, he has gone on to perform similar work in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland and Houston, among other cities. He has worked on high profile projects such as the restoration of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, but he has treated more works in Baltimore than any other city.

White House campaign

The 1911 Key Monument is one of the first in the country to be restored as part of the White House Millennium Council's "Save America's Treasures" campaign to preserve works of art and architecture for the next millennium. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the project during a ceremony held at the monument in July 1998.

The monument depicts Key returning to shore after his detainment on a British ship during the bombardment of Fort McHenry on Sept. 13 and 14, 1814. The experience inspired him to write the poem that later became "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Donated to the city by Charles L. Marburg, a wealthy tobacco merchant who founded the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore, and built at a cost of $25,000, the monument is the work of French sculptor Jean Marius Antonin Mercie, who was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1868.

The monument includes the allegorical figure of Columbia, who holds the national flag to her left side. A barefoot sailor rows the boat while a standing Key presents the manuscript of his poem to Columbia. On one side of the monument's base is a bronze panel representing the bombardment of Fort McHenry, and on the other side is a panel representing the guns and ramparts of the fort.

Tatti says the Key Monument deserved the extensive restoration treatment. Unlike some works that appear to have been "plopped" on the ground, Tatti says, this monument is well integrated with its setting and of high artistic quality. "The whole presentation on that site is well thought out. . . It's a wonderful work."

Tatti's restoration makes people stop and take notice of a monument they previously might have overlooked, says Lynn Pellaton, president of the Friends of the Francis Scott Key Monument, a citizens group that has worked for four years to make sure the monument was preserved.

"The work he's done has been excellent," she says. "He certainly went all out for us."

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