Smithsonian American Art Museum Reaches Milestone in Ongoing "Save Outdoor Sculpture!" Project
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The Smithsonian American Art Museum has reached a milestone in the first stage of its ongoing "Save Outdoor Sculpture!" project with the creation of the most comprehensive database of American sculpture available to the public. This online inventory contains a wealth of information about the status of nearly 32,000 publicly accessible outdoor sculptures across the United States. "Save Outdoor Sculpture!" is the largest volunteer cultural initiative in the nation's history.
Jointly sponsored by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Heritage Preservation, Inc., this nationwide initiative is committed to documenting and preserving America's outdoor sculpture. It is also a model of public and private funding.
"Not only does this event mark a milestone in the 'Save Outdoor Sculpture!' project, but it also signifies a landmark in art museum research," said Elizabeth Broun, Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "We are presenting vital art research to the American public, while also paving the way for other art museums to do the same. Since 1990, nearly 7,000 volunteers have collected information about the history and condition of their communities' outdoor sculptures in every state. As partners, the museum makes the complete inventory conveniently accessible to all citizens, and Heritage Preservation, Inc., works with owners and interested local groups to conserve and maintain these artworks."
All of the information on various sculptures across the United States has been compiled in an online study center at AmericanArt.si.edu/research. During the month of April 2000 alone, 14,581 searches were executed on the combined inventories of the American Painting and Sculpture database.
"Save Outdoor Sculpture!" is a result of the museum's bicentennial project that became public in 1976. It compiled an inventory of all publicly and privately owned American paintings created prior to 1914. Interest in cataloging sculpture was deferred due to the problem of identifying the owners, titles and creators of public outdoor sculptures, but in 1991 the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Heritage Preservation, Inc., began enlisting civic and state organizations in every state and training these coordinators in researching and surveying outdoor sculptures.
"Outdoor sculpture is the most accessible of all our artistic and historic heritage," said Lawrence Reger, president of Heritage Preservation, Inc. "For the first time, it has been identified and constitutes a coherent collection. Now, all citizens can appreciate this wonderful legacy and participate in ensuring that it will be available for future generations."
The project is now focusing on preservation of the sculptures. Three awards—Assessment, Achievement and Conservation—are being granted to communities nationwide to honor their work. More than 300 awards have been made to date in 43 states, as well as the District of Columbia.
The Assessment Award, a non-competitive grant for publicly owned sculptures, encourages owners to acknowledge that they possess important works and to learn the history of these works, as well as allow a conservation professional to assess the state of the sculpture. Among the recipients is a second grade Girl Scout troop from Framingham, Mass., whose troop members worked with a woman conservationist. "SOS!" inaugurated a new Girl Scout patch in 1999 that focuses on the role of women in art. The Nebraska Art Council used its award to assess the condition of eight large-scale contemporary sculptures along I-80.
Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana was honored with an Achievement Award for developing an "education trunk" filled with study materials about outdoor sculpture for use by children in fourth through eighth grades. This award is made for preservation or public awareness efforts on behalf of public sculptures. The Irvington (N.Y.) Landmarks Preservation Commission received an award for their work in the restoration and ee-dedication of Daniel Chester French's Washington Irving Monument (1977).
The Conservation Award, sponsored by Target Stores and the National Endowment for the Arts, is available to owners of works of artistic and historic significance that are in urgent need of conservation. Applicants must demonstrate an ability to complete the conservation project and implement a public awareness plan. Among recipients of conservation awards are the city of Albuquerque for "Southwest Pieta" (1983) by contemporary sculptor Luis Jiménez; Friends of the Observatory for the "Astronomer's Monument" (1934) on the grounds of Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles; and the Hawaii Alliance for Arts Education for conservation treatment of Kapaau, Hawaii's "King Kamehameha I" (1883) by Thomas Ridgeway Gould.
The online database serves as a foundation for the next stage in the "Save Outdoor Sculpture!" project. By enlisting community members to catalog public works, the program hopes to foster interest in the sculptures, which will encourage groups to apply for awards. In turn, these awards will ensure that outdoor sculptures all over the United States are preserved. The monumental effort will help save our national heritage.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection began with gifts of art donated to the federal government in 1829 and has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 38,000 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, folk-art objects, and contemporary crafts.
Its research programs include fellowships for pre- and post-doctoral scholars; an estimated 100,000-volume library specializing in American art, history and biography; extensive photographic collections documenting American art and artists; and unparalleled art research databases. The museum's exhibitions and educational programs are complemented by an active publications program of books catalogs and the journal American Art.
As the museum begins a three-year renovation at its main building, the Old Patent Office, it is continuing a full program of craft exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W.). For information about Renwick Gallery activities, call (202) 357-2700. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at AmericanArt.si.edu.