Conservators are in the midst of a weeks-long cleaning of the George Washington statue in the Boston Public Garden, tackling nearly a decade of accumulated dirt and grime.
The statue, erected in 1869, depicts the first US president on horseback, mounted above a towering granite pedestal. Surrounded by winding paths and a sea of tulips, it greets visitors at the Arlington Street entrance.
“The sculpture is exposed to the elements,” said Elizabeth Vizza, president of the Friends of the Public Garden. “It gets beaten by rain and wind and sun and it deteriorates. You have to take care of a monument regularly.”
For the past week, scaffolding has surrounded the structure. Workers began removing dirt, urban grime, and bird’s nests from the statue on May 25. Pitting, tiny holes created by acid rain decades ago, will be filled. Old wax will be scrubbed off, and an Incralac coating to protect the bronze, as well as a new layer wax, will be added.
“It helps safeguard the bronze from the impact of the elements,” Vizza said in a phone interview.
Depending on the weather, the process will take 10 days to a month, she added. The imposing statue was last cleaned in 2014. The same private contractor, Daedalus conservators, has been responsible for its maintenance since 1984.
On Tuesday, the warm and sunny Public Garden teemed with visitors. Scaffolding and fencing shrouded the statue, but passersby took little notice of the obstruction.
“If it’s in need of restoration, I don’t mind it,” said Klaudia Mendoza, a tourist visiting Boston for the first time from Germany. She and her husband, Claudio, sat on a bench facing the statue and said they had been wondering why the scaffolding was there.
The statue was created by Thomas Ball, a sculptor from Charlestown. The granite base originated from a quarry in Quincy, and a Massachusetts foundry cast the bronze. Its unveiling was marked by a grand ceremony with a 13-gun salute, according to Vizza. At the time, most sculptures were cast in Europe and brought overseas, making this one particularly noteworthy, she said.
“This was one of the first [statues] in our world that was cast locally, and that was a pretty big deal,” Vizza said.
While many of the preservation efforts will be difficult to notice from afar, Vizza added that she hopes onlookers will notice the fresh, gleaming coat of wax.
“We are committed to regular professional care of the sculptures in the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall,” Vizza said.