A Good Samaritan who pressure-washed paint off the vandalized Francis Scott Key monument in Bolton Hill inadvertently damaged the monument further by blasting off some of the deteriorated marble, art conservators said Friday.
The pressure-washing also appeared to have driven the spray-paint on the monument’s fountain pool deeper into the granite, according to Diane Fullick, a Baltimore-based art conservator hired by the city to inspect and scrub away the vandalism.
“You never want to pressure-wash marble,” Fullick said.
The monument to the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was written in Baltimore during and just after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, was tagged this week with the words “Racist Anthem” and splattered with red and black paint.
The vandalism came weeks after a monument to Christopher Columbus was damaged in Northeast Baltimore. That incident followed the city’s removal of three monuments honoring Confederate figures and one honoring former U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh ordered those four statues taken down during the night, following a deadly white supremacist rally protesting the planned removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Va.
Police have no suspects in the Bolton Hill incident, and Pugh has said she does not plan to remove the statue.
Fullick and Howard Wellman, an art conservator from Halethorpe, spent hours Friday inspecting the monument at Eutaw Place, dabbing samples of different paint strippers on the marble structure, bronze statues and granite fountain pool.
It’s not clear how long it might take to clean all the paint off the monument or how much it will cost.
The art conservators hope the Good Samaritan who tried to clean the statue will come forward and share any information that might be helpful, such as which solvents, if any, were used in addition to pressure-washing.
Fullick is preparing a report on the vandalism that will be submitted to insurers.
The city has an insurance policy that covers all its public monuments and public art, including museum collections, said Lauren Schiszik, a historic preservation planner with the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
“I’m solubilizing the paint,” Fullick said, as she put a small dollop of homemade acetone gel on one section on the marble boat at the monument’s base. “In all likelihood, it’ll be a multi-step process.”
The different kinds of paints used — a black spray-paint, a red latex paint and a black, tar-like paint — and the monument’s varying surfaces will likely complicate the cleanup, she said.
“The black [paint] is more tenacious,” Fullick said, as she scrubbed away at it.
“This is material science,” Schiszik said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment.”
Given the way the paint was splattered and how high up on the monument it reached, Fullick said, it appeared to have been shot onto the monument with a paint gun.
Wellman straightened up from a section of marble he’d been working on at the base of the fountain and called out to Fullick in the boat. They walked carefully in the basin of the empty fountain, which had sandy grains of blasted marble on the bottom.
“It seems to be fairly loosely bonded,” Wellman said, referring to the paint.
“Yeah, I’m wondering if we’re getting some of the marble off, too,” Fullick responded.
“The citrus strip is actually doing a lot better than I thought,” Wellman said. “It’s got those essential oils.”
The city assesses the state of its monuments each fall, and before the vandalism, the Key monument was among the best-maintained in Baltimore, Schiszik said.
It underwent a $125,000 restoration in 1999, after years of neglect left it cracked with a broken fountain, according to an article in The Baltimore Sun at the time. The bronze statues got a coating of two layers of wax two years ago designed to protect them from the elements, Schiszik said.
“It was in good shape,” she said. “We’re going to get it into good shape again.”
Fullick and Wellman said they have worked on no shortage of vandalized public art in their careers. But the size of the Key monument and the emotionally charged rhetoric surrounding the vandalism made this one unique.
“It’s overwhelming in what it is and how it happened, why it happened, coupled with the surface area,” Fullick said. “But graffiti is graffiti, and paint removal is paint removal to an art conservator.”