Students, staff form Outdoor Sculpture Corps for conservation of campus art collection

The project is funded by a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.

This May, St. Catherine University received a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Legacy Grant for the conservation of outdoor sculpture in the University’s fine art collection through the Visual Resources Library in the Department of Art and Art History. The grant also funds the development of an Outdoor Sculpture Corps, which will receive training from the Midwest Art Conservation Center (MACC) and perform sculpture maintenance around campus. 

The Corps includes a group of five students led by Jennifer Adam, visual resources curator, and Nicole Watson, director of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery. In addition to protecting and restoring campus sculptures, the Corps will give students hands-on, specialized conservation experience. 

Although the St. Kate’s facilities team has provided general maintenance such as caulking over the years, the Corps’ project is the University’s first comprehensive plan of care based on standard art conservation practices. A previous Legacy Grant in 2021 funded a survey of St. Kate’s fine art collection by an MACC conservator, which helped the team get a better sense of the state of the collection and create a plan for maintenance going forward. One of the goals established in the plan was the creation of a sculpture maintenance program.

“Nicole Watson and I started playing with the idea of getting students involved in the work of doing sculpture care alongside us, and wrote our grant application around that,” said Adam. “We are extremely excited to finally be doing much-needed sculpture care on works on our campus this fall, and for the Outdoor Sculpture Corps to be in place to care for works in the future.”

St. Kate’s students applied to be members of the Corps, and then completed two MACC training sessions in October. During the first training, the group visited eight campus statues made from bronze, concrete, and marble. The group discussed the ways in which prevention and treatment differ for each of these types of sculpture, and learned how to recognize signs of damage or decay, monitor changes in condition, and protect and clean sculptures with techniques like washing and waxing.

The group took a special look at the wood and concrete sculpture Venus on the Road Again by Neda Miranda Blažević-Krietzman, located on the steps of the Visual Arts Building. Students took turns rinsing and scrubbing the statue, which has been at St. Kate’s since 1994, with brushes until layers of dirt began to fall away. 

Sarah Pentecost ’24, an art history major who is interested in a career in art conservation, attended the training as a member of the Outdoor Sculpture Corps.

“I have worked with some outdoor stone conservation such as mosaics, but this is my first time with outdoor sculptures. I am very excited to learn new conservation and preventative measures when approaching different materials such as bronze and cement sculptures,” Pentecost said. “Learning different techniques and investigation assessments involved with diagnosing an artwork, finding ways to protect the artist's intent and message to the best of our abilities — these are all a part of the mission at the heart of art conservation.”

In addition to Venus on the Road Again, sculptures across campus in the Corps’ conservation plan include:

  • Our Lady by Peter Lupori, on the west side of Our Lady of Victory Chapel
  • St. Francis of Assisi by Peter Lupori, in the English Garden west of Whitby
  • Our Family Tree by Dean Kermit Allison, near Dew Drop Pond
  • Statue of the Sacred Heart by Lee Studios, at the end of the drive to the west of Derham
  • St. Joseph, Model of Workmen (artist unknown), between Stanton and Crandall Halls
  • Unnamed sculpture of two lions (artist unknown), north of Cecilian Hall
  • Zerogee by Paul Granlund, in the courtyard between the Chapel and Coeur de Catherine

The sculpture collection spans several time periods and styles, all with their own stories and connections to St. Kate’s. It ranges from works like the Statue of the Sacred Heart, which was donated in 1923 by the alumnae association, to more contemporary sculptures by late St. Kate’s art professor Peter Lupori. 

“These works provide a touchstone of sorts to the greater history of St. Kate's and the people and practices, mission and values for which it stands,” said Adam. 

One of the Outdoor Sculpture Corps’ goals is to collect research on the ways that the campus community interacts with outdoor sculptures on campus. Students, faculty, staff, and other visitors to campus are invited to fill out a survey on St. Kate’s campus art