April 13, 2010

Professor Wants to Restore Forgotten Plaster Statues

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Prof. Annetta Alexandridis, art history, tells of a Cornell that once had a museum filled with more than 500 casts of sculptures that date back to the Renaissance and ancient Greece and Rome.

The casts are now stowed away in a University warehouse, but after much-needed and significant restoration, Alexandridis said she hopes to bring them out once again for students and the community to enjoy.

The casts were originally purchased by A. Emerson, the University’s first classical archaeologist, during the late 19th century, Alexandridis said. The 500 historical pieces were later displayed in a cast museum in Goldwin Smith and in McGraw Hall.

“[The museum] comprised casts of sculptures and reliefs from Near Eastern and Egyptian but mostly Greek and Roman cultures,” Alexandridis said.

Alexandridis said it is not clear why these valuable casts were stored away and neglected, but she had several possible explanations.

“There may have been a lack of space,” Alexandridis said. “Goldwin Smith, in which the cast museum was housed, underwent several changes.”

Other possibilities included deliberate destruction of the casts by students, increased appreciation of the originals rather than casts and changes in taste, she said.

Alexandridis is working to restore the casts and display them for the Cornell community.

“Repairing may include careful cleaning, gluing together of broken parts and recasting of missing parts,” Alexandridis said. However, “in several cases the casts cannot be saved anymore.”

The repairing can be difficult. The help of a professional restorer may be needed, Alexandridis said, and such help can be expensive.

“We will certainly need outside funding, once we get an idea of much can be saved and what the expenses would be,” Alexandridis said.

The casts can serve a variety of purposes, including tools for teaching, research and outreach, Alexandridis said. She said she hopes to create a new cast museum once the casts are restored, but finding space may become a problem.

“We want to proceed step by step and start with an exhibition in the Johnson museum,” Alexandridis said “Once the University and the whole Cornell community see how wonderful a tool these casts are for teaching, research and outreach, we hope they will be more willing to find an appropriate space.”

Original Author: Chris Kim