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An Incident in Bell Park August 29, 2013

By Jane Gillies
Tags: sculpture, american, museum, houston, mfah, and, the

On his way to work, MFAH photographer Will Michels noticed that a bronze sculpture depicting Christopher Columbus had been tagged in several places with silver paint. The sculpture, which stands in Bell Park in the Museum District, was paid for by Houston’s Italian-American community. Columbus points to the Italian Cultural and Community Center on Milford Street.

The graffiti appeared in several places on the statue. After speaking with Will, we contacted a Houston Arts Alliance staff member who deals with conservation issues for sculptures in Houston’s public parks. The city did not have anyone on staff who could address this, and it was likely to be a long time before the sculpture could be cleaned. We offered to go and remove the marks.

We did some quick spot tests to decide the best method for removal of the graffiti and waited for permission to proceed. By lunchtime it was well over 100 degrees outside, and the sculpture was even hotter. Just a few hours baking in the sun had made the silver paint a lot harder to remove, but even so, we were able to get rid of the paint completely with solvents.

As conservators, we try to rectify any deliberate damage to artworks as quickly as possible. Just as with stains on clothing, immediate treatment is always best, and in the case of vandalism, swift removal is even more necessary to prevent attracting more vandalism. And for us, doing our neighborly duty brought considerable satisfaction.