Campus Announcements

Alma Mater Restoration FAQs.

3/12/2013  8:00 am

Alma Mater Conservation
Frequently Asked Questions


Q. Why wasn’t the need for more extensive conservation work revealed by the initial in-place examination of the sculpture by experts from Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio (CSOS) and other conservation experts?

A. Conservators could closely examine only the exterior of the sculpture before it was removed from its granite base. Only after the sculpture was transported to the studio in Forest Park near Chicago was an in-depth examination of the interior possible and the extent of the deterioration discovered.


Q. Why wasn’t the sculpture removed right after Commencement in May 2012 instead of August 7, 2012?

A. Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio in Forest Park, Ill., is a professional entity that manages multiple historic conservation projects at a time. The project had to become part of the studio’s workflow, including managing factors such as securing available space in the studio and time for conservation experts to meet prior commitments to other projects before starting work on the Alma Mater sculpture. The move also had to be coordinated with the schedules of the Custom Service Crane company and Methods & Materials, expert art handlers.


Q. Why did campus announce that the sculpture would return in time for the 2013 Commencement?

A. Campus administration was sensitive to the importance this tradition with graduates, so the University of Illinois Purchasing Division stipulated in the Request for Proposal process that the sculpture be returned by May 4, 2013. Data available from exterior inspections by conservation experts indicated that this was a reasonable time frame for CSOS to perform the conservation. The timetable for this project had to be changed once the need for additional work was identified and approval to move forward was granted.


Q. When did CSOS discover the conservation process was going to take longer and inform the campus?

A. Lead conservator Andrzej Dajnowski discussed the details of the conservation work and the additional damage at a lecture he gave to the campus on Sept. 27, 2012. The agreement between the studio and the university includes several opportunities for the conservator to share the latest information with the campus. The News-Gazette reported on the need for more extensive work in a story published the day after the lecture.


Q. Why didn’t work begin on the conservation process immediately after the more extensive damage was discovered?

A. Lead conservator Andrzej Dajnowski had his team perform material testing, x-ray analysis, and laser treatment on the pieces of the sculpture that were accessible as part of their original contract. The more extensive work could not begin until  the university went through a state-mandated process to award a change for the additional resources required.  The university is required by State of Illinois statutes to follow an established procurement process designed to save taxpayer funds and ensure that finances are used wisely. That process requires multiple layers of approval by various agencies.


Q. Why is it going to take so long to do the additional conservation work?

A. According to lead conservator Andrzej Dajnowski, the difficulty is that the sculpture is large enough to have serious structural problems but small enough to make it difficult to get inside to remove and replace the hundreds of bolts holding the 30 pieces making up the sculpture together, and to clean the oxidation off with lasers. Unlike other conservation projects the studio has handled, where the sculpture was large enough for multiple experts to work on it simultaneously, the Alma Mater group’s small size makes it difficult for multiple conservators to work on it at the same time.


Q. Why did the cost rise from $99,962 to $360,000?

A. The deterioration discovered was more extensive, requiring more work to remove and replace the hundreds of bolts holding the sculpture together, as well as the difficulty in accessing the sculpture’s interior to perform the work.


Q. Are taxpayers paying for the conservation?

A. No. The money used to pay for the conservation comes from annual gifts to the Chancellor’s Fund, which includes donations from alumni and friends. The fund is used for academic initiatives and beautification projects that enrich the student and faculty/staff experience at Illinois.


Q. Is this the only sculpture on campus that needs to be conserved?

A. The campus Preservation Working Group completed a Campus Collection Needs Assessment in 2010 that identified collections, objects and cultural assets at risk of deterioration. The group tracks the status of assets and makes recommendations regarding the priority of conservation efforts. .


For instance, the bronze bust of Lincoln displayed in Lincoln Hall, known for its shiny nose that students rubbed for good luck, was removed during the renovation of the hall in 2009. It was restored and placed back in the hall in July 2012.


Information about other artworks/sculptures on campus can be viewed via the online campus map.


Q. Why couldn’t the sculpture be returned for the 2013 Commencement, and then taken back to the studio for more extensive work?

A. The conservation process has to be finished in order to move the sculpture safely. Moving the sculpture before the conservation process was completed would have created more damage. Campus administration decided it was more important to complete the conservation process so that the sculpture would continue to be available for future graduates, current students, and alumni for decades to come.