After more than a decade of being exposed to wind, rain and pollution, “The Guardian” statue on top of Oklahoma's state Capitol may be getting a scrub and a wax job.
The head of the Oklahoma Arts Council said a cleaning and inspection is past due for the bronze statue of the American Indian warrior, which was placed on top of the Capitol's dome 11 years ago.
Amber Sharples, the council's executive director, said it will be expensive to hoist someone about 250 feet above the ground to do the work. There doesn't appear to be a way to build scaffolding around the statue so a crane might be the best option to inspect and clean the statue.
“We've been kind of monitoring as much as possible and trying to work with the state Capitol Preservation Commission … to highlight that that is something that needs to be included in an overall maintenance schedule and budget for the care and maintenance of the Capitol art collection,” she said.
It's hoped the cost could be included in the Capitol repair and renovation work that is scheduled to take place the next couple years, Sharples said. A bill was passed and signed into law this year that provides $60 million each of the next two years to repair the nearly 100-year-old building.
“It is a good time now that the Capitol is going to be renovated that we do stop and look at the piece, and moving forward not only cleaning the piece and making sure that it's in tiptop shape and giving it a barrier to the elements by cleaning it and waxing it and having a professional look at it, but then this will give us an opportunity to assess what equipment is really needed so that we can put it on a very annual schedule,” she said.
“The Guardian,” which stands 17 feet tall and holds a staff that is more than 22 feet tall, hasn't been cleaned or inspected since it was placed on the dome in June 2002, a couple days after exterior work on the dome was finished. The statue is anchored by eight 1-inch-by-4-inch bolts.
“Most of that is just because of its location and its size and because the Capitol structure itself doesn't have a real ease in order to get up there,” Sharples said. “That introduces many different challenges when it comes to getting a professional up there covering those costs because you obviously need additional equipment.”
“And how do you rotate around the piece without involving a risk of damage to it?” she asked.
Sharples said the nonprofit Friends of the Capitol group, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and preserving the Capitol and its artwork, pays for cleaning statues inside and outside the Capitol. The two exterior statues, “Tribute to Range Riders” and “As Long As the Waters Flow,” which are both on the south plaza, are cleaned and waxed every year or so. It costs $500 to $1,000 to clean each of those statues.
Sharples said the Legislature could be asked to appropriate money so “The Guardian” and other statues could be routinely cleaned and waxed.
Trait Thompson, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, said another option would be to use some of the $30 million appropriated this year to the Long-Range Capital Planning Commission, which is to address repairs to the state Capitol and the long-term management of state buildings and properties. A majority of members have yet to be appointed to the commission, which was reconfigured in legislation approved and signed into law this year.
“It's certainly something that needs to be looked at,” he said. “One of the first hurdles would be to find funding to do something like that. There's no budget that I'm aware of where any sort of regular cleaning of any of the bronze statues around the Capitol, including “The Guardian,” is included in any sort of regular maintenance schedule.”
Thompson said a protective coating called a patina was applied to “The Guardian” to protect it.
“But over time if you don't clean those statues that patina that protects the metal starts to break down,” he said. “So the longer you go up there between cleanings, A, the more it's going to cost to clean and preserve the statue and, B, the more the statue can be subject to deterioration.”
Sharples, who was named the arts council's executive director last month, said “The Guardian” should be inspected and cleaned annually.
“Just like any type of artwork you always have to maintain it in order to keep it resilient and in good condition,” she said.