Thomas McDowell, PA; AIC  Architectural Conservator

Preservation Projects - Art / Objects Conservation & Coordination
University of Kentucky Department of Geology Also known as the Whitfield Stump   
The base of an ancient fossilized Lycopod tree known as the Whitfield stump was originally found in a coal mine in Harlan County, KY in the 1930's, where It had fallen out of the mine ceiling and broken into a number of pieces - leaving the center stump section intact. It was donated to the University of Kentucky in 1961 and set in concrete in the center of campus where it has been a significant feature since that time. Being exposed to the elements, atmospheric soiling and some level of vandalism gave it a shabby appearance so that by 2016 the president of the university requested Facilities to relocate and restore in a more appropriate location on campus near the entrance of the Mines and Minerals Building.
A conditions assessment was completed that included examination of the replacement material through thin section microscopy to determine the chemical makeup; a laser radar scan was taken to identify all remaining pieces of the stump to assist with labelling and re-installation at the new site. Each of the separate pieces were carefully removed from the concrete using a pneumatic sculptors hand-piece and carbide tooling, labelled according to the laser radar scan and removed from the site. The large central section, still in one piece but with fractures at a few locations, was rigged and lifted in a separate operation.  
The University prepared a new site with a more protected enclosure, and the central section – estimated at 6,000 lbs. – was set in a custom high calcium, lime putty and pozzolana mortar on top of compacted dense grade aggregate. A full scale template of the stump was made using the laser radar scan which was used to re-position the fossil at the direction of the Department of Geology. Each of the separate pieces were then set in lime putty and connected to their adjoining pieces using stainless steel turnbuckles, wire and Tapcons on the concealed side. Missing sections were "restored" with a conservation repair and casting mortar specially formulated by a Danish chemist to match the color and mechanical properties of the siliceous fossil material. It was possible to sculpt or carve the details of the stump surface in this repair mortar. Small cracks and fissures were filled with an appropriate injection grout and then patinated to match the color of the stump using potassium silicate borne iron oxide dyes. The Whitfield Stump will now be used as an important learning tool for appropriate classes in Geology and will be preserved for generations of students to come. 

As the GSA project manager for the conservation and cleaning of the Michael Lantz sculptures Mr. McDowell located important historic documents and photographs at the NARA to guide the technical specifications, conservation and cleaning of these two remarkable sculptures standing on either side of the Federal Trade Commission Building and commanding the apex of the Federal Triangle. These two sculptures were produced from assembling large blocks of Indiana Limestone, set together unfinished and carved/finished to the artists’ model in carver sheds erected over each sculpture. The ¼ scale plaster model produced by the artist (brother of Walter Lantz) was positioned appropriately inside the shed to allow the carvers to use a “pointing” machine in order to remain true to the plaster model. The historic photos and individual block layout plans indicated metal dowels could exist that were intended to maintain the appropriate position of each rough block in relation to the next according to the finished contours of the artist’s design. Each block was set in a bedding mortar and then pointed with a finish mortar after carving was nearing completion. The finish mortar used ground limestone for the sand portion to disguise that the sculptures were an aggregate composition, intending to create the perception of one uniform piece of limestone. Trees were removed in the immediate vicinity of each sculpture to retard potentially damaging lichens and other biological growth. Lab analysis identified all corrosion products. Steam, soaker hoses and benign chemical cleaners in isolated areas comprised the major components of this very non aggressive yet effective treatment. Replacing decayed mortar while retaining sound original material will keep moisture from the interior and prevent the potentially problematic iron cramps and dowels indicated in Mr. Lantz’s schematic drawings from corroding. Following the conservation project a high resolution laser radar scan was completed to accurately capture the geometry of the forms in three dimensions so that if damage did occur in the future an accurate repair could be made.

THE THOMAS CRAWFORD (GUIDO BUTTI) PORTAL  (Former US General Post Office/Currently the Hotel Monaco)  Washington, DC  
When Thomas Ustick Walter was supervising the completion of his monumental cast iron dome and extensions to the Capitol in the mid-1850’s he also completed construction of Robert Mills’ design for the US General Post, now the Hotel Monaco. The west portal into the courtyard was adorned with two spandrel sculptures illustrating Electricity, Steam with a keystone mascaron of Fedelity. The General Post Office was the first all marble building in Washington - the sculptures being carved from the Carrara material. Due to the ill-advised installation of an electrified bird proofing system and its remova, significant damage had occurred. Additionally, deterioration due to atmospheric pollutants had caused comprehensive surface losses, extensive sugaring of the marble and “black scab”. A gentle conservation cleaning, removal of the remnants of the previous  bird 
deterrent system and installation of a more effective and benign deterrent system now allow these sculptures to be 
appreciatedby thousands of tourists who pass this way each year.

For The Uunited States National Capital Region, GSA as "Cultural Assets Expert" and the Regional Fine Arts Officer            Washington, DC

The White House Visitor’s Center – Coordination of corrections to mechanical systems to prevent interior environmental degradation – mold contamination - and conservation/restoration of 1930s era decorative oil on canvas intrados panels .

The Federal Trade Commission Building – The Michael Lantz Sculptures* Award Winner mentioned above

The Ariel Rios Building (former, 1932, US Post Office Department) – Technical review, conservator selection, project coordination and sign off authority for conservation and cleaning of 24 WPA era Murals.

The Mellon Auditorium, ICC/Customs (now EPA East and West) – Assessment and cleaning recommendations of Tempani and other sculpture

The Tariff Building (former, 1839-66, General Post Office) – Thomas Crawford (Butti) West Portal Sculptures – Mr. McDowell was the conservator of record for the cleaning and stablilization of these sculptures

The Department of the Interior - Coordinated conservation and cleaning recommendations of WPA era Murals – GSA Fine Arts Officer for the conservation, stabilization and restoration of Native American secco murals in the South Penthouse. To see more photos of restored art click here....

The Department of Labor - Cordinated conservation, cleaning & relocation of the Tony Smith “She Who Must Be Obeyed”, painted steel outdoor sculpture

The Cohen Building - Cordinated conservation and cleaning of WPA era murals by artists such as Ben Shann and the Magafan Sisters

​The Department of Justice - Award Winner Coordinated and provided technical review and guidance and exercised sign off authority for $2,500,000 worth of art conservation projects during the recent modernization, including buon fresco, oil on canvas, plaster bas-relief, cast aluminum monumental sculpture and significant Alabama limestone sculptures by Paul Jennewein and executed by Roger Morigi