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Lady Baltimore moves into its new home

Statue deteriorated seriously from years of exposure to the elements

By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

4:26 PM EDT, October 5, 2013

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Lady Baltimore was gingerly moved Saturday from its 190-year-old home overlooking Baltimore's Courthouse Square and taken to a new residence that will shield it from outside elements that have worn away its features.

The hope is that its new home at the Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library in Mount Vernon will give it a longer life.

Since 1822, the 8-foot female statue has perched atop the Battle Monument, the historic structure at Fayette and Calvert Streets that honors the soldiers who lost their lives at the Battle of North Point and the bombing of Fort McHenry in 1814.

Wearing a crown of victory and holding a laurel wreath that represents glory, Lady Baltimore is meant to symbolize Baltimore. A rudder in its left hand signifies Baltimore's ties to trade by sea. A bomb reminiscent of those mentioned in "The Star-Spangled Banner" sits to its left.

But its delicate marble structure hasn't held up well over the years, chipped away by wind, pollution, snow, rain and other elements. Its eyes, nose, mouth and breasts are just a remnant of its original state. It lost both arms over the decades, including one that was knocked off by wind.

Its new indoor residence will protect it from the elements and any further damage. An earlier plan to relocate the marble statue to the Walters Art Museum was changed because at 2,750 pounds, the Lady Baltimore is too heavy for the museum's floors.

"We were rescuing her," said Kathleen Kotarba, executive director of the Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation, which led the efforts to preserve the statue. "It really was our only choice if we wanted to restore this historic treasure."

A replica of Lady Baltimore, made from a sturdy concrete mix, was erected Saturday in its old spot in front of the courthouse. Recreating the statue after such deterioration proved challenging, said Steven Tatti, a New York-based fine arts conservator who led the efforts.

Lady Baltimore was carved from marble imported from Carrara in northern Italy. Its structure had become "sugared," with grains of marble crumbling away.

Conservationists studied the style of Lady Baltimore's original sculptor to recreate its face because there were no good photographs that showed enough detail, Tatti said. He and his crew took pains to keep the look of the statute "a little rough" so it would blend in with weathered look of the Battle Monument.

The decision to relocate the original statue indoors followed years of work by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. City officials approved a $148,500 contract for the move last year.

Much care was taken with the move. A special cage was built around Lady Baltimore rather than hoisting it with ropes that might further erode its structure.

It traveled up Calvert Street on the bed of a truck, covered in a protective blanket that resembled a pashmina scarf.

Its new home is on the second floor of the Maryland Historical Society in a glass pavilion, where it will be illuminated at night. The space will allow visitors to see Lady Baltimore's face close up for the first time since the statue was erected.

The society doesn't plan to try to restore the statue. Instead, it will be a teaching lesson about the preservation of statues and Baltimore history.

Burt Kummerow, president of the Maryland Historical Society, said the move was bittersweet.

"The whole idea of having to take her down after nearly 200 years is kind of sad, but at the same time we are preserving an important part of Baltimore history," he said.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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