It goes without saying that regular maintenance is key to the good looks of the Old Yard’s most popular resident who is nearing 140 and has endured much at the hands of visitors and vandals.
The iconic John Harvard Statue, modeled after a student from the 19th century (not the 17th-century English minister and generous College benefactor, John Harvard), receives occasional washings by Harvard’s Landscape Services team, but last month he had a kind of statuary spa treatment.
For several days in July and August, a team specializing in the restoration of public monuments carefully performed their magic behind a screen of green scrim and chain-link fencing in front of University Hall. Armed with paint brushes, soft cloths, power washers, and a leaf blower (for drying), they restored the original color and shine to the 1884 statue by the artist Daniel Chester French, famous for his later sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln on Washington’s National Mall.
“We think of the John Harvard Statue as being a kind of stable, forever monument, but this bronze is actually a delicate work of art,” said Angela Chang, a specialist in the conservation of objects and sculpture at the Harvard Art Museums. “In the museum, we are able to really care for work like this much differently than something out here.”
Robert Shure, head of the local sculpture design firm Skylight Studios in Woburn, Massachusetts, led the gentle rehabilitation effort with guidance from Chang, assistant director of the museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. The famous statue is officially part of the University Portrait Collection, a group of paintings and sculptures dispersed around campus and cared for by the Harvard Art Museums.