Memorials get funds for maintenance

Published 2:50 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is getting some new spurs. The statue of the crafty Union general in the Vicksburg National Military Park is one of 12 memorials and monuments that will benefit from this year’s allocation of maintenance funds from the National Park Service.

Park superintendent Michael Madell said the park received $51,800 — almost $350,000 less than officials had requested — in cyclical maintenance funding from the NPS, and made of list of needed projects that will fit its budget.

“We compete every year against other parks to get these funds,” said Madell. “The work this time around will take care of the individual needs on the various monuments that are most important.”

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The funding is roughly what the VNMP gets annually, even though officials asked for as much as $400,000, said Jerrel Cooper, the park’s chief of maintenance.

On this year’s list are state monuments or memorials for Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi; the African-American Monument; Grant’s memorial statue and that of Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Lee.

“This is sort of a partial restoration on all of these,” Cooper said.

Complete stone cleaning and restoration of both Illinois and Wisconsin, for example, would cost nearly a million dollars.

“One of the great things about having a work in the park is not just from the historical standpoint, but that the National Park Service is committed to maintaining the public art,” said Dr. J. Kim Sessums, the Brookhaven artist who created the African-American Monument.

“Jerrel and the whole crew there do a great job of keeping up with a very large number of pieces.”

In this round of repairs, stone surfaces on the selected monuments will be cleaned as funds permit, and bronze panels and sculptures will receive hot and cold waxing, Cooper said.

The two-step process puts protective coatings on the sculptures and seals them from the elements.

Like the Grant monument, missing pieces will be replaced on some of the bronze pieces. In addition to spurs, for example, Grant is due to get reins and part of the horse’s bridle.

No components are missing from the bronze African-American Monument, but it will get spruced it up and a new layer of protection.

“It’s in real good shape, but cleaning and waxing the bronze will expose the features a lot better,” Cooper said.

The 9-foot-tall sculpture, dedicated in 2004, weighs 3,000 pounds and depicts three African-American figures — a soldier in uniform and a civilian in farm clothes helping a wounded man off the field of battle.

The VNMP was established by Congress in 1899 as a memorial to the 1863 campaign and siege of Vicksburg. Nearly 1,400 monuments, markers, tablets and plaques commemorate the military action and those who fought here. Most were created decades ago.

Sessums said he is one of the few artists of VNMP sculptures that is still living. He visited the VNMP recently to confer with officials of the restoration company, Aegis Restauro LLC of New Jersey.