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Arts

Edgar Allan Poe statue at University of Baltimore gets a makeover

The new year has been pretty jolly for that master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe.

This past weekend, the Maryland Historical Society hosted a birthday observation for the poet — complete with a proclamation by the mayor and the unveiling of a new "Poe Toaster" to visit his gravesite at Westminster Hall.

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Now one of the author's monuments is getting a makeover.

A restoration of the Poe statue at the University of Baltimore has been in the works since Jan. 4, and on Tuesday — Poe's birthday — in sub-30-degree weather, Urban Renaissance Restoration owner Kenya Brown continued her task.

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Her face covered with a respirator, the conservator took to the statue with a blowtorch, heating the corroded bronze before applying a combination of potassium sulfate and distilled water — a solution that with heat absorbs into the weathered metal, treating the green discoloring, known as "bronze disease." Brown then applied a special coating to prevent further corrosion.

With 10 years' experience in restoring historical ceramics and paintings in places as far-flung as Italy and Washington, D.C., the 41-year-old native Baltimorean and York, Pa., resident said that working on the statue has been a challenge.

Statues are often treated every five to 10 years, Brown said, but Poe's last restoration remains a mystery. The university has no record of its last treatment, but Brown, who stumbled upon the statue while at Artscape in July, knew it needed work.

"I was just staring at it, and I said 'Good Lord! This is terrible-looking,'" Brown said of the statue in Gordon Plaza, in front of the university's academic center.

It should be black, but it had turned green because of exposure to aerosols and pollutants.

She contacted the university and wrote a proposal in November. Before she knew it, the Poe statue became her first Baltimore project.

"It came full circle for me," said the self-proclaimed Poe fan.

"In middle school, I needed a piece for a dramatic reading that would allow me to beat a friend of mine [in a competition], and that was 'The Tell Tale Heart,'" said Brown. "I am very honored to be working on him."

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University spokesman Chris Hart said that with Brown's expertise, she is transforming a fixture of the university.

"It means something to the entire community. It's a gathering place. It's Baltimore history. It's iconic," Hart said.

Commissioned in 1911, the statue was constructed in 1921 in Wyman Park but relocated to the university in 1983.

There, the statue has been met with open arms and various accessories.

"We walk out this morning … and even in this weather, someone had fashioned a birthday hat and plopped it down on his head," Hart said.

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Brown works an average of four to six hours a day on the statue when the weather allows, but the rain and cold have made it harder for the metal to absorb the solution that treats corrosion, Brown said. On Tuesday, the frigid temperatures froze the solution in her spray-bottle.

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"The solution works immediately, but when it's so cold and rainy, it's a lot more challenging. I have to heat [parts of the statue] up for quite a bit of time before I spray on the solution," Brown said.

Brown said that with the snow predicted to hit Baltimore this weekend, she will most likely have to take a break. Her hope is that the Poe statue will emerge close to its original condition sometime next week.

Nonetheless, she said, her work may never be done.

"I'm going to be checking up on him obsessively," Brown said. "Even on the days that I'm not scheduled, I'll do a drive-by and just look at him."

bbritto@baltsun.com

twitter.com/brittanybritto


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