Green soldier gets second scrubbing

SYCAMORE - After 110 years without a proper cleaning, one of the copper soldiers on the DeKalb County Courthouse Civil War monument was removed last week for its second refinishing in three months. “He started turning green," DeKalb County Facilities Manager Ken Campbell said. “So they're going to strip him down again to the bare metal and duplicate the patina to make sure the mixing and coating process went the way it was supposed to." The two hollow, life-size copper soldiers were removed from the monument in July 2005 to be stripped, cleaned and refinished, and were replaced in early March. The project cost the county $16,500, or about 10 percent more than it had expected. On May 31, one of the statues was removed again after patches of green started showing up in places like the folds of the soldier's coat. Campbell said Botti Studio of Architectural Art in Evanston, which did the initial cleaning, is restoring the soldier a second time at no charge. Mike Smoucha, a foreman at Botti Studio, said there are a number of reasons the statue could have turned green. “This particular statue was sandblasted at some point in the past," he said. “Sand-blasting opens up pores in the metal, so there may have been acid caught in those pores that was not fully drawn out prior to recoating. Also, the two statues were apparently made at different times. The metal alloy in this statue is different from the other one. ... There's different compositions and different treatments from the past that could have affected how the coating took." Refinishing the statue involves completely removing a coating that is designed to make the copper statues look as if they are made from weathered bronze. “You take them down to the bare metal, and they're this bright copper, like a shiny penny," Campbell said. Smoucha said the second restoration will be similar to the first, but the studio will flush and rinse the statue more aggressively to remove any traces of acid or chemicals on the metal. “It's hard to say because at this phase we're not 100 percent sure what caused it to occur," he said. “Hopefully it won't reoccur." When the statues were taken down for their cleaning last year, it was believed to be the first attempt at restoration in the monument's 110-year history. However, Campbell said it's possible some previous generation of county workers attempted an amateur refinishing. In addition to what appear to be sandblasting scars in the metal of the affected statue, he said, both statues had drips on them, as though they had once been painted with a thick liquid like a varnish. “I have no idea when in the past somebody might have tampered with it," Campbell said. “We could be talking someone from the 1940s or something." Though the evidence indicates a previous attempt at restoration, Campbell said he is sure the statues were never removed from their pedestal until last year, because the anchors holding them in place date from the 1800s. Campbell estimated the new restoration could take about six weeks to complete. Dana Herra can be reached at dherra@daily-chronicle.com.