Conserving public art in our three parks: That’s what Friends are for

Statue of George Washington in the Public Garden
Statue of George Washington in the Public Garden

The iconic bronze statue of George Washington that greets visitors to the Boston Public Garden who enter at Arlington Street is being repaired this summer by the Friends of the Public Garden.

Standing 22 feet and resting on a 16-foot pedestal, the magnificent equestrian statue is considered one of the most important pieces of monumental decoration in New England.

Created by a little known Boston sculptor named Thomas Ball, it was installed with great fanfare in 1869.

Altogether, there are 44 pieces of public art – statues, fountains and commemorative plaques – in the three parks we care for (the Boston Common and the Commonwealth Mall as well as the Public Garden). In addition to the Washington statue they include the Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens opposite the State House (acclaimed by many as the greatest work of American sculpture of the nineteenth century), the statue of Edward Everett Hale in the Public Garden, and the statue of Alexander Hamilton on the Mall.

Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial across from State House
Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial across from State House

Conserving these treasures and restoring them when needed is part of the mission of the Friends of the Public Garden.

When the Friends was founded in 1970, the public art in our parks received little or no care. Only one statue had an endowment that provided for its care. The others had to fend for themselves, and they weren’t doing well in an era of acid rain, pollution and graffiti.

The first project of the Friends to address the situation was restoration of the Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial. After that successful project, the Friends joined the Art Commission to create an “Adopt-a-Statue program” for restoration and endowment of sculpture citywide. Since then, we’ve been working in the three downtown parks to restore each piece, one by one.

Alexander Hamlton statue on Commonweath Mall
Alexander Hamilton statue on Commonweath Avenue Mall

In 2010 the Friends launched an annual program of sculpture and fountain maintenance, as one of its 40th anniversary legacy projects. Work includes a regular cycle of cleaning as well as conservation and restoration when needed. The cost for cleaning a piece of sculpture is approximately $700, while the cost for full restoration can be $20,000-$25,000. Implementing this annual program allows these important pieces of art to be professionally and cost-effectively conserved.

During our 40th anniversary year, we launched another initiative to strengthen the Friends sculpture care program and to honor founding President Henry Lee’s longstanding commitment to the care of sculpture throughout Boston. The Henry Lee Conservation Fund was established to raise funds for the care of sculpture, fountains, and other selected structural features of the three parks.

Click here to learn how you can join the Friends of the Public Garden and support our work.

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