DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) – Davenport’s old Carnegie library fell to the wrecking ball long ago, but a cherished piece of that building has returned home.
A 105-year-old frieze, cast from an original sculpture of cherubs by the Italian artist Donatello, has been cleaned up and reinstalled at the downtown Davenport Public Library’s special collections area.
The reproduction of Donatello’s “singing angels” was presented to the old library in 1905 by W.C. Putnam, a wealthy entrepreneur who was the godfather of the Putnam Museum. It was an expensive, imported piece for a wall of the children<s department in the library. But when the museum was razed in 1966, the plaster reproduction found a new home at the Blackhawk Hotel in downtown Davenport.
As restoration work began on the hotel this fall, developers Restoration St. Louis decided to donate the valuable piece of art back to the library.
“It takes us back to our roots as a Carnegie library,” said a grateful Amy Groskopf, the chief archivist for the library. “Since we don’t have our original building, it’s nice to have a significant piece of history we can put back in our facility to remind us of where we came from.”
Although it is a reproduction, it still is a legitimate and important work of art, said Nicole Grabow, a specialist with the Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis who traveled twice to Davenport to assist in the moving and reinstallation project.
The plaster reproduction was made in 1904 by a company called P.P. Caproni and Brother of Boston. In the early part of the 20th century, such companies were granted access to world-class pieces of art and allowed to make direct castings, a practice that is impossible today, Grabow said.
The Donatello piece was created in 1439. Today, it is preserved at the Museo del’Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy.
“The fact you can’t take those castings any more and the kind of workmanship that was required to do it in plaster makes it worthwhile,” Grabow said. “Part of the value is also in its history. It was given to the library by W.C. Putnam, who was a significant local historic figure. It’s become a part of the history of the library that’s pretty hard to put a price on.”
It also is one of the largest reproductions of its kind Grabow has ever seen. Companies like P.P. Caproni often made smaller sculpture reproductions for private collectors, but large pieces – in this case 24 feet long and 3 feet high – are rare.
“I’ve never come across one this large,” she said.
The cleanup and move was a delicate process, Grabow and Groskopf said.
It had to be moved in six sections, each about 4 feet wide and weighing about 100 pounds. After it was cleaned, it was reinstalled using the same mounting method used previously, consisting of 4-by-4 pieces of wood mounted to the wall and a metal shelf for support.
Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com
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