RALEIGH — If you happen to see the State Capitol's Gov. Charles B. Aycock looking a little mummy-like in the next few days instead of his usual aging bronze, don't panic.
It's not a post-Halloween prank. It's actually part of a generous gift by a conservancy group from South Dakota that specializes in preserving and recreating statues created by Gutzon Borglum, an American sculptor who's best known for his four gigantic presidential busts at Mount Rushmore.
Borglum created the Aycock monument, as well as the monument for Aycock's Capitol Square neighbor, Henry Lawson Wyatt, an Edgecombe County Confederate soldier who was the first to die in battle in the Civil War. Wyatt's monument was dedicated in 1912, and Aycock's statue was unveiled on the square in 1924.
Borglum was a popular artist in his day, though occasionally criticized for racist views he expressed and his membership in the Ku Klux Klan. He also is known for his North Carolina sculpture placed in 1929 on Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park. Today, it's still a favorite for many visitors to the battlefield.
Both Capitol Square sculptures are getting makeovers this week, courtesy of the Borglum Historical Center in South Dakota. The group strives to reproduce as many Borglum images as possible. Foundry master Ron Cavalier and his team of conservators arrived Thursday to begin a nearly two-week process of making molds of the two statues and then cleaning and preserving them.
"We're very grateful to be allowed to come here and reproduce these sculptures," he said Saturday. "They'll be on display in South Dakota, and we hope that people who see them will be redirected here."
When they're done, they'll end up with full-sized plaster molds, which will be taken back in pieces to their workshop in East Haven, Conn. There, they'll spend the next year reproducing the bronze statues that will join other Borglum work in the Historical Center, which is open to the public near Mount Rushmore.
The conservation team started the process by painting layers of black synthetic rubber that looked like tar on both statues. It was a painstaking job that involved squeezing behind the bronze Aycock and up against the granite monument to make sure his whole body was covered.
By Saturday afternoon, after the fourth coat of rubber had dried, the team got to work putting plaster on Aycock and Wyatt.
The plaster work will continue today. It should be dry and ready to come off by Monday or Tuesday. And then the cleaning and preserving will go through the middle to end of the week.
The group has been tireless in its pursuit of copying the work of Borglum, who died in 1941. At one point, he maintained a studio in Raleigh, and he also is known as the first sculptor to try to carve a Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain near Atlanta.
Once the group finds a Borglum piece exists, conservators get permission to do a mold and then clean and preserve the monument for free as a thank-you to the owners. Cavalier said they usually do one project every one to two years.
"We do it for the love of art," said Cavalier, who took a break from the statues to lead a small class on the molding process Saturday afternoon.
State Capitol employees have spent two years paving the way for the conservationists to start working on Aycock and Wyatt.
"The conservation of our statues is important, so that we can preserve them for future generations," said Tiffianna Honsinger, the curator of collections and research at the Capitol. "We'll be able to share these works with others in South Dakota."
Honsinger typically takes on the role of preserving the Capitol statues -- at least the ones that are low enough to the ground for her to reach. Last year, she cleaned and waxed the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial as part of a 20-year celebration of the monument's creation. While doing so, she discovered the sculptor was so detail-oriented, the soldiers even wore watches and had coins in their pockets.
"There's no better way to learn about a statue then to clean it," she said.
The cleaning process will unfold this week in full public view. On Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Capitol, Audrey and Howard Shaff, representatives from the Borglum Historical Center, will give a historical overview on Borglum's time in North Carolina and how it shaped his later work at Mount Rushmore.
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