Pegasus at Memorial Hall

The pegasi on opening day of the 1876 Centennial World’s Fair. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

While with Materials Conservation Co., Kate Cowing was the project manager for the conservation of the Pegasus Sculptures at Memorial Hall. The two colossal bronze Pegasus sculptures flank the entry to Philadelphia’s children’s museum, the Please Touch Museum. The museum building and these sculptures are two of the few remnants from the US Centennial held in Philadelphia in 1876.

Originally for the façade of the Vienna Opera House, the Pegasi were removed quickly due to disdain by the citizens and were destined for the scrap heap. A Philadelphian traveling through Europe heard this story and, together with a group of fellow Philadelphians, purchased the sculptures for the newly established Fairmount Park. They were shipped to Philadelphia in 1871 and ultimately reassembled at this prominent location for the Centennial. Here they have stood for over 140 years.

After learning of a crack in one of the horse’s legs, the City of Philadelphia authorized Materials Conservation Co., LLC to complete an investigation of the infrastructure of the sculptures. Archival research revealed no record of construction; neither plans nor specifications. Visual and borescopic assessments also yielded scarce information about the interior except to indicate the sculptures were held together by extremely corroded iron bolts. This revelation prompted an emergency restoration project.

The sculptures were temporarily stabilized and then disassembled piece by piece beginning by removing each horse head. As each piece was removed more of the mystery of their construction was revealed but it wasn’t until all the disassembled fragments lay in the yard that the cast iron infrastructure could really be understood.

As expected, the infrastructure was no longer able to safely support the sculptures, but unexpectedly, it was also unable to be removed. A restoration campaign was developed to accommodate the unusual structural elements.

After the restoration of the interior, they were reconstructed as they were deconstructed, piece by piece. Kate has presented about the Pegasus project at the annual conferences of both the Association for Preservation Technology International and at the Construction History Society of America.

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