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Poised for restoration: Minute Man statue to have its moment to shine again

Published 2:47 pm, Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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  • Francis Miller, right, the directing conservator and founder of ConservArt in Hamden, looks over the Minute Man statue as he and Michael Donovan, assistant conservator, begin restoration of the monument site. Photo: Anne M. Amato / westport news
    Francis Miller, right, the directing conservator and founder of ConservArt in Hamden, looks over the Minute Man statue as he and Michael Donovan, assistant conservator, begin restoration of the monument site. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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The iconic outline of the Minute Man statue will soon be shrouded in plastic as restoration of the historic monument begins.

The statue at the intersection of Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road, unveiled in June 1910, commemorates the local militia who took on invading British troops in April 1777.

Francis Miller, directing conservator and founder of ConservArt in Hamden, who was contracted by the town for the restoration, began the $66,900 restoration project last week with Michael Donovan, assistant conservator. Miller expects to have the work completed by Oct. 31.

Miller, standing on the earth pedestal on which the statue is poised, pointed out the different steps in the process. First, they will be reworking the fieldstone foundation and raising it about 18 inches. The original height of the stone wall base was 2 feet, but that was shortened when the road around the monument was raised, Miller said.

He said the stone wall was part of the original design in tribute to the walls colonial-era farmers in the area routinely built from stones cleared from their fields. "They wanted to capture the feel of the farm," Miller said of the monument's designers.

Stones for the original wall were donated by townspeople and stones to restore the wall are being donated by a local business, Miller said. He said none of the original stones will be disturbed in the process.

Miller will also be restoring the wrought iron fence that originally encircled the monument. A concrete foundation will be part of that process, to make it more stable, he explained. He said the fence needs some repairs since it had been damaged over the years by cars and snow plows hitting into it.

The earthen mound, which has eroded over time, will be regraded, he added. And they will also be replacing missing mortar on the rubble-stone pedestal base.

The statue, Miller added, doesn't require much repair. "He's missing part of a strap," he said. The plan is to "wash him and apply a coating of protective wax," he said. That's done by heating the surface of the statue with a torch, then applying the wax by hand. He said the end result will be a greener statue.

During much of the process, the statue will be covered in plastic to protect it while work is being done around it, he said.

The original bronze statue -- designed by 30-year-old H. Daniel Webster and cast by Tiffany & Co. -- was brown, but, Miller said, the town's Historic Commission decided not to restore it to the original color and wanted " an aged statue" look instead.

Webster, who apparently used the first selectman at the time for the model of the militia man, died just two years after the statue was cast. "It's amazing and you have to wonder what else he would have done," Miller said.

At the time he was chosen for the project, Kathie Bennewitz, town curator and a member of the Arts Advisory Committee, told the selectmen that Miller is well known for some of the projects he's done, including restoring the Civil War Monument at Seaside Park in Bridgeport. His company, which he started in 1999, preserves historic and artistic objects.

Miller said he studied sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute and, at one time, was responsible for the conservation of all the sculptures in the Chicago parks.

Miller is no stranger to the Minute Man, having worked on the statue in 1996. That's when he was called on to "even out the disfiguring erosion pattern," he said.

At that time, he came across something interesting. "The Minute Man had been shot in the front by a bullet," he said. "I welded the hole."