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New Conservation Treatment for the Magnificent Whitney Monument

December 3, 2020

On a beautiful October day, conservators completed treatment of the magnificent 1883 Whitney Monument on Oriole path in Mount Auburn. It was perfect timing. The twenty-two-foot-high monument created by Italian sculptor Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti was set off by a background of vibrant orange and gold leaves of the nearby sugar maple.

Conservators from Daedalus Inc. had assessed the condition of the Whitney Monument, designated as one of Mount Auburn’s thirty most significant monuments, as a top priority for treatment. Viewed from a distance, the memorial appeared to be in better shape than it was, but closer inspection revealed an alarming degree of degradation.

Detail of the Whitney Monument After Conservation Treatment, October 2020.

The marble surface, once smooth and lustrous, contained an extensive network of fine cracks, larger fissures, and even deeper vertical cracks. In addition, the surface showed signs of disaggregation, the loss of cohesion between the grains of the stone that over time had created a highly eroded surface of dramatic bumps and ridges. Typical of monuments in an outdoor environment, the entire exposed surface was heavily soiled with areas of green algae and decayed lichen. Black crusts of gypsum leaching from the marble appeared in the recesses and protected areas of the white marble, especially in the deep folds of the drapery and in the flowers. Sadly, extensive losses dating from the early 20th century included the angel’s left wing and hand, and the little foot of the putto (cherub figure).

Daedalus Inc. conservator Joshua Craine, Mount Auburn’s Vice-President of Preservation and Facilities Gus Fraser, and Curator Meg Winslow had to determine the best method of treating the severely eroded marble. They made the decision to wash and stabilize the monument, but not to undertake additional restoration of elements such as the wing and the foot. Most significantly, the team chose to apply a shelter coat to protect the surface of the monument: the first time a treatment of this kind would be attempted at Mount Auburn.

The Whitney Monument After Conservation Treatment, October 2020.

The shelter coat is a mix of hydraulic lime mortar with very fine aggregate, diluted with water and tinted to match the marble color of the monument. The fine aggregate included in the mix binds with the lime, creating a matrix that enhances both permeability and durability. The mix is applied with a brush, and when cured, results in a breathable coating that is sacrificial in nature, meaning that over time it, and not the original surface of the monument, will erode. Mixing, applying, and curing the coating requires time and skill, but “as long as it’s done properly, it’s totally reversible and re-treatable,” explains Craine.

“The severely eroded condition of the monument prompted the team to consider a sacrificial shelter coat to protect the surface rather than a more invasive approach of a chemical consolidant,” says Fraser. “With Josh’s continued help, we will monitor the condition of the coating and retreat as necessary.”

Vice President of Preservation & Facilities Gus Fraser and Conservator Josh Craine Inspecting the Shelter Coat Mixture

Prior to applying the shelter coat, the entire monument was carefully washed to remove biological growth and atmospheric staining. Craine removed the areas of gypsum crust with a hand-held laser, instead of chemicals or brushing. After cleaning the monument, he applied the protective shelter coating with a thick, sash brush, daubing it on to fill the recesses of the sculpture and create an even coat. The grit included in the mixture helped the coating adhere to the surface and recede into the grooves of the carving.

Conservator Josh Craine Applying the Shelter Coat

The treatment required wrapping the monument in a layer of canvas and then in a sheet of plastic to protect the coating and ensure a proper cure. Once or twice a day, Craine removed the extensive wrapping to inspect the progress and fill areas that still needed coating. “The art,” explains Craine, “is knowing when to stop.” Coating the sculpture, touching it up, and keeping it wet proved time consuming and occurred over the course of five to six days. Fortunately, the work took place under clear skies and low humidity.

Whitney Monument, Ribbon Detail

The color now appears creamy and bright, especially when compared to the condition before treatment, but similar to other marble monuments at Mount Auburn that have recently been washed. “There’s trepidation with every conservation project, even when working with the most skilled conservator like Josh,” explains Winslow, “so you can imagine we’re thrilled to see the results of the project. In the early morning light, the Whitney monument just takes your breath away.” Craine concludes, “We’ve saved it to some degree and given it a bit more life.” Viewed from a distance, the spirit and uplifting movement of the monument remains intact.

Curator of Historical Collections & Archives Meg Winslow with Curator Josh Craine, October 2020

Learn more about the Whitney Monument, the artist Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti, and the Whitney family.


December 3, 2020

There’s a bear in the Truro woods.
People have seen it – three or four, …
-Mary Oliver

An opportunity to use images inspired from Oliver’s words are welcomed. “The Truro Bear” alluded to in her same titled poem is also accompanied therein by blueberry, blackberry and cranberry. We vicariously suggest the addition of our native bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, commonly found growing in Truro and many other towns of Cape Cod.

Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is an evergreen, prostrate growing shrub which in autumn produces bright red fruits, often persisting into early winter that are indeed eaten by bears, as well as by deer, other smaller mammals, and birds. The etymology of the genus name is both Greek and Latin. In Greek, arctos means bear and staphyle is a bunch of grapes. In Latin, uva and ursi mean grape and bear respectively.

Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is an evergreen.

 Arctostaphylos is a genus with 60 species of shrubs and small trees native to North America, mostly evergreen but some are deciduous.Within this genus bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is one of several species of low-growing sub-shrubs, only reaching 6-12-inches tall, usually spreading wider than it is tall, a fine example of survival of the shortest. Its alternate, evergreen leaves are ½ – 1 ¼-inch long, leathery, short-stalked, with entire (smooth) margins and rounded at the tip. These leaves often turn a bronze color in the winter before returning to green in the spring. In May, ¼-inch, white, urn-shaped, drooping flowers if fertilized will produce ¼ -½-inch fruits (drupes) in the summer, first as green, later ripening to brilliant red in the fall.The native habitat of bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi includes subarctic Newfoundland to Alaska, (as well as circumboreal northern latitudes of Europe and Asia) south to Virginia, Illinois and South Dakota, the widest natural distribution within the genus. The cold hardiness range for this species is USDA Zone 2 to 6. Zone 2’s average annual winter minimum temperatures are between -50 degrees and -40 degrees.

Previously when discussing Oregon Grape, we mentioned Lewis and Clark’s 1804-06 Corps of Discovery.A bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, was also part of the botanical collections returned from this historic exploration. The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has an original Lewis and Clark herbarium mounted sheet of bearberry. As with other plants bearberry has had a long history of many other common names. Lewis was introduced to this plant as sacacommis, a Chippewa word. In January 1806, Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) wrote his description from encounters with this plant, “…it is generally found in the open piney woodland as on the Western side of the Rocky Mountains …  natives…who can procure this berry invariably use it. To me it is a very tasteless and insipid fruit…The leaves retain their verdure most perfectly through the winter, even in the most rigid climate …The fruit ripens in September and remains on the bushes all winter. The frost appears to take no effect on it. These berries are sometimes gathered and hung in their lodges in bags where they dry without further trouble, …”  

Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is an evergreen

From Meriwether Lewis we conclude by returning to the close of Mary Oliver’s featured poem,

“…when has happiness ever
required much evidence to begin
its leaf-green breathing?”

On a future visit to mount Auburn look for our bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in Consecration Dell, which along with numerous other types of plants in our landscape may enhance your leaf-green breathing.

Oregon Grape

October 30, 2020

The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its cultivation.  – Thomas Jefferson

Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium is a good example of Jefferson’s (1743-1826) oft-stated opening quote. This plant of contemporary usage was introduced as part of our country’s early botanical exploration.

Today we may add Oregon Grape to a list of more well-known evergreen shrubs such as rhododendron, mountain laurel, yew and pieris. Averaging 3 to 6-feet high and wide, its distinct alternate compound leaves are composed of 5 to 9 shiny, stiff, leaflets, each 1 ½-to-3 ½-inches long with spines on the tip and margin. Bright yellow, slightly fragrant flowers occur in mid-to-late April, about the same time as some of our flowering magnolias and cherries. Later in August-September these flowers may produce dark-blue berries, looking somewhat akin to grapes, hence the common name. Fruits may be used for jellies, wines and were historically part of traditional diets of indigenous Pacific Northwest peoples.


The Annual Fund – How You Can Support Your Favorite Activities at Mount Auburn

October 30, 2020

• Do you appreciate the beauty of a simple walk through Mount Auburn in autumn?
• Do you enjoy birdwatching in Mount Auburn’s wildlife habitat corridor?
• Does finding a unique monument you’ve never noticed before spark joy?
• Have you enjoyed any of our virtual programs with staff, experts, and authors?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, we hope you’ll support Mount Auburn’s Annual Fund this fall.

Your unrestricted gift to the Annual Fund drives all of these activities – and more. During COVID-19 we’ve been working to keep the Cemetery looking fabulous and protecting flora and fauna alike. In the past year, the Annual Fund also enabled us to:

• Restore critical habitat in the North Dell Meadows
• Host the critically-acclaimed productions of The Mount Auburn Plays by Artist-in-Residence Patrick Gabridge
• Preserve a series of Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans’ memorials
• Create a new series of accessible, virtual public programming to keep our community connected amid the COVID-19 pandemic

As a thank you for your support, you’ll be a member of the Friends of Mount Auburn and receive special benefits such as members-only events and free admission to public programs. You can make a gift and join here

Thank you to all of our current members and supporters. Your generosity enables Mount Auburn to remain an exceptional community resource for all, providing us with peace and beauty every day of the year.

Questions about membership or supporting the Friends of Mount Auburn? Please contact Peter Schlaht, Annual Giving Manager, at