Andrzej Dajnowski, who manages the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio in Forest Park, Ill., where the Alma Mater sculpture is being repaired, shows Christa Deacy-Quinn, the collections manager for Spurlock Museum, and Jennifer Hain Teper, a conservation librarian and chair of the Preservation Working Group, where the heads of the sculpture were once attached. Plans are for the sculpture to be repaired and returned to campus in time for next year’s commencement activities.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
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You couldn't swing a sheepskin during commencement weekend without hitting some likeness of the Alma Mater sculpture, currently on sabbatical at a Chicago-area conservatory.
On campus, Alma Mater was everywhere.
Graduates flocked to the augmented reality Alma Mater floating realistically before anyone with the free Alma Mater AR app on their smartphone.
And students and graduates stood in line during the May 12 GradFest to use green-screen technology that inserted the missing Alma beside them in a photo.
For the un-augmented, Art and Design students created three-dimensional replicas of Alma that were set up at several campus locations, and disciples dressed as Alma, Learning and Labor - in the familiar flowing robes - were wandering around campus for impromptu photo-ops.
"We know what an important tradition it is to students to have a photo taken with the Alma Mater sculpture," said Robin Kaler, the associate chancellor for public affairs. "In her absence, we tried to give them as many options as we could."
She said students seemed genuinely excited over the efforts made to offer a fun and unique alternative to Alma.
"Students were lining up at all of the scheduled Alma events," she said. "It was almost like Alma wasn't even away."
The real Alma, meanwhile, sits headless and short a couple of screws, after being disassembled and cleaned with lasers since being removed from its pedestal last August.
"The work is proceeding well," said James Lev, an architect with the capital planning division of Facilities and Services, who recently viewed the progress being made on the restoration at the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio in Forest Park, Ill.
He said the conservator is proceeding slowly with the disassembly of Alma and her cohorts because the pieces are held together by a variety of different fasteners, some of them hidden. The sculpture is an assembly of as many as 30 cast bronze pieces.
"We are learning a lot about how the statue was constructed in this process and the conservator is learning just how the pieces were assembled as he goes along," Lev said. "There is a bit of forensics involved in this; we will know much more about Alma Mater when this work is completed; how it was constructed and how it was assembled."
He said the conservators will try, wherever possible, not to disassemble the sculpture. They will also have some of the materials testing done by campus engineers.
"In some instances however, disassembly is the only way to get access to the deteriorated, corroded and missing fasteners," he said.
The extent of repairs for the water-damaged sculpture means Alma Mater probably won't be well enough to return to campus by fall, and likely will wait until commencement 2014. Funding for the repairs is being raised through private donations.
Lev said plans are being made for the conservator to make his second public presentation on the project in September. He will make a third presentation once the project is completed.