Within the past few months, two unrelated observations referred to the Sunsinger’s glowing turquoise color.
On the first occasion a Park visitor had returned with her husband to visit The Park on a romantic walk back to the past. She inquired “When did the Sunsinger get so green? I don’t remember him being that bright.”
More recently at a post-funeral family dinner, an attendee remarked “They’ve gone and painted the Sunsinger green.”
At his feet, Carl Milles had scrawled his signature. The rough edges along the letters of his named revealed his signature had been inscribed with a stylus and not stamped. Now at eye level, the visitor could fully appreciate the detail of the small tortoise beneath his right heel. The Pegasus tail on his helmet flowed behind his upturned face and head. He was breathtaking and magnificent. In spite of the cool morning air, he was warm to touch in the early sun.
The Loredo Taft work “Alma Mater” presently undergoes restoration in a working conservator workshop in Park Forest , Illinois. The News-Gazette has chronicled the scale of her disrepair and the progress of the restorative process. Her unexpected extent of her disrepair extended her absence from her welcoming post at Wright and Green, near Altgeld Hall and the Illini Union.
The current discussion surrounds the color Alma Mater was in her prime, and should be in the future. Reference on more than one occasion has been made to The Sunsinger and his recent restoration. Anyone familiar with the Sunsinger, pre- and post-restoration can attest to the significant color change with the restoration.
Since The Sunsinger was returned after his second restoration, neither his color nor patina have yet mellowed. The Sunsinger remains a very vibrant aqua or teal. After his first restoration and return to the elements, within a few short months, the corrosion beneath the surface could be clearly seen. In the spring of the following year, The Sunsinger was again lowered from his post. This time, however, he was transported off-site to Northern Illinois.
A sculptor determines the final color and finish of his piece with the application of chemicals, sealants and waxes. Certain chemicals react with metals with a predictable result. It’s not an exact science. Some chemicals react with the metal, especially copper, to render a green hue. The concentration of the applied chemicals and the concentrations of the metals used to compound the bronze are two factors in the resulting end-color. Some sculptors are drawn toward the dark chocolate patina, as Rodin chose for his Adam.
Milles gravitated toward the greens. Clearly The Sunsinger has always had a green patina. Another of Milles works seen on the Champaign-Urbana campus is the Diana Fountain, outside the west entrance to the Illini Union. The Diana Fountain was installed in 1971 at its current location. It was a 50th class reunion gift to the University from the class of 1921. It was salvaged when the Chicago Michigan Avenue building was demolished. She, too, shares a green patina, although her color tends to favor a deeper jade.
The University’s hesitant and slow decision making on Alma Mater’s future color is justified. The Alma Mater has become the University of Illinois symbol. This was Taft’s goal by design and by execution. The Alma Mater arrived on campus in 1929. Originally she stood on the south side of Foellinger Auditorium until her move to her prominent pose in 1962. When did her “popularity” as University symbol take off? (This will be another research thread to pursue.) The University of Illinois was established in 1867 and had been in existence already sixty-two years when the Alma Mater was installed.
While the Sunsinger now maintains a glow-in-the-dark aqua/teal quality in certain light, who knew he was going to turn out so brightly? The Sunsinger references in the articles discussing the choice of the Alma Mater’s final color are well understood by anyone familiar with The Sunsinger since his restoration. Certainly, the oxidation process of the chemicals applied to restore his color in an even fashion resulted in a more intense green than anticipated. Certainly, no one could think his present color is his most desirable shade. It can only be hoped that, in time, his brightness will mellow and age to a muted shade of green. Unfortunately, a faint and creeping shadow seems visible beneath the surface in areas of extensive corrosion. If the restorations have halted the corrosion on The Sunsinger, he is better green than not at all, but on a sunny day he is really quite glowing. Before the Alma Mater.
On the day of the unveiling of the restored Alma Mater, it would be a great shock to the assembled crowd if her burlap shroud should fall to reveal a neon green University mother being attended by her equally glow-in-the dark male and female attendants, Labor and Learning,