Nathaniel Bowditch Statue, 1847, conserved 2012

July 22, 2013

The bronze statue of Nathaniel Bowditch (1771-1838), astronomer, mathematician, and author of the American Practical Navigator, has greeted visitors to the Cemetery for over 160 years. The Cemetery commissioned the sculptor R. Ball Hughes (1806-1868) to create a portrait statue of the great New Englander with contributed funds that were raised by public conscription. Hughes captured his likeness in bronze, seated with his globe and octant beside him. This is the first life-size bronze statue cast in this country representing the latest advances in American art and industry. The statue was erected at Mount Auburn in 1847 and later recast in Paris in 1886. Nathaniel Bowditch is buried on Tulip Path with his family.

Before treatment, the sculpture was in poor condition, the surface was streaked with light green and black, and there was a brittle and flakey coating from built up oil and wax. When Curator Meg L. Winslow learned that the conservators at Daedalus Inc. were planning to conserve the related plaster statue of Nathaniel Bowditch at the Boston Athenaeum, the Cemetery moved forward to hire Daedalus, one of the leading art conservation firms in the country, to conserve the related bronze statue at Mount Auburn.  Their work has not only preserved the magnificent memorial, but also brought to light the original color and details of the life-size bronze cast. Treatment included filling in cracks and pits, removing the build-up of coatings and corrosion, and cleaning the bronze, which uncovered a striking green color. Early photographs in the Cemetery’s Historical Collections Department provided clues about the statue’s original condition and helped to determine the final patination color as did other casts known to the conservators that came out of the Gruet foundry in Paris. Conservators heated the bronze, applied patinating chemicals, covered the statue with an acrylic coating, and then waxed and buffed the bronze, which now exhibits a lovely deep brown color.


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