Saving Our Sculptures
The next steps to meet the need of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum’s Outdoor Sculpture Collection.
The Berman Museum’s outdoor sculpture collection is a hallmark of the Ursinus College experience.
The Cubed Curve on the front lawn, for example, is one of the first points of interest tour guides highlight to prospective students. Many students bookend their Ursinus career with the LOVE sculpture, taking their commitment pictures and senior portraits there. And realizing that the woman knitting on the bench is a sculpture and not a real person is practically a rite of passage.
The pieces’ outdoor home boosts their public visibility and creates an environment where the Ursinus community can live with art. But these beloved sculptures can’t survive Mother Nature without some help.
Passionate about conservation and public art, Mark W. ’64 and Sandi-Jo Gordon are stepping up to help protect the sculptures. In conjunction with Giving2UCDay on April 19, 2023, they have agreed to match each gift to the Berman Museum of Art Conservation and Preservation Fund, up to $5,000.
“People definitely appreciate that the sculptures represent Ursinus’ openness to and appreciation of artistic expression.”
- Katie Barlow, student tour guide
Why conservation matters
Artists and private collectors donated to the outdoor sculpture collection because they trusted the Berman with their care. To do right by the donors and the members of the Ursinus community, it is the Berman’s duty to maintain them in the best condition.
Sculptures with steel, iron, bronze, aluminum, marble, granite, and wood—not to mention some bright coats of paint—cover the college grounds, numbering nearly 80 in total. Each of these materials has different needs to remain in their outdoor locations without sustaining damage.
Many of the sculptures are in excellent condition, and the Berman Museum is committed to keeping them that way. Others, particularly those that have been in their locations longer, require repair or remedial work to return them to their optimal condition.
“Owning objects is an active process,” says Lauren McCardel, executive director of the Berman Museum. She believes it is time for the entire Ursinus community to take a more active stance on the care and maintenance of the outdoor sculptures.
The current care plan was a good fit for the state of the sculptures when the museum first adopted it, but the needs of many pieces have changed. No plan could have anticipated how a global pandemic would create setbacks in the collection’s preventative care. Between museum staff spending less time on campus, students no longer being available to help with maintenance, and less dependable funding, small issues began to snowball. In some cases, this resulted in surface-level issues like scratches or peeling. Other problems, such as those caused by sustained water damage or deteriorating structural support, are more concerning.
“Owning objects is an active process.”
- Lauren McCardel, executive director of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum
Thus, the Berman is kicking off a conservation fundraising initiative this spring to protect the outdoor sculpture collection. The initiative will be a multi-year project, as it will be funded primarily through gifts to the Berman Museum of Art Conservation Fund.
What the process will look like
The first step in the conservation initiative was getting an assessment of the collection’s current state. This past October, the Berman Museum brought in a team of conservation experts who conducted a comprehensive survey of the collection.
The conservation team used their notes and photographs from the survey to assemble recommended action points for bringing all sculptures up to their best condition. With the suggestions in hand, the Berman staff can develop a list of priorities to ensure they focus on the pieces most in need. The timeline will ultimately be determined by funding, but the Berman Museum hopes to complete the full scope of work within the next few years.
From there, the long-term goal is to have an updated strategic plan for the sculptures’ standard maintenance routine.
The Berman Museum is excited to build momentum around this project, enabling the sculptures to continue enhancing the campus experience for many years to come. The support of alumni and friends like you will help the museum meet the collection’s most critical needs, ensuring the long-term care of this vital component of the Ursinus community.