Polishing & Waxing the Bronze Portrait Bust of FDR

By Stephen Martin, Director of Design & Planning

We are always striving to keep the Park in pristine condition. Through routine and cyclic maintenance we are able to protect the memorial and its structures from natural elements and normal deterioration.

Curious about how we do it?

We were onsite last week to document the fascinating process of polishing and waxing the 6-foot tall, 1,050 pound bronze portrait bust of FDR. Outdoor sculptures such as this are often waxed and polished annually (and sometimes more often) in order to protect them from harsh natural elements. Essentially, wax creates a barrier so that the sun, rain, and wind do not corrode the metal.

On a sunny dry day, a maintenance crew from Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry, the company that originally cast the bronze, arrived at the Park to begin their work. They carefully cleaned the Jo Davidson sculpture and applied a fresh layer of wax to its surface.

Philip Castore and Garett Grassi, two artisans from Polich Tallix, secure tarps below the bronze sculpture to avoid damaging any of the granite blocks that hold the portrait-head of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After cleaning the entire sculpture, the team notices that the base of Roosevelt’s neck shows very faint streaking. This is oxidized water from Roosevelt Island’s saltwater sea sprays and pollutants in the rain. This has not damaged the sculpture but Polich Tallix will carefully remove the streaking with non-invasive cleaners and cotton rags.

After the entire sculpture is cleaned of any oxidants, the team heats the surface of the sculpture and applies different metallic oxides and nitrates to its surface. Heating it ensures that the metal ‘accepts’ the nitrates.

Nitrates are then applied with different brushes to the warm surface of the sculpture. They restore the bronze to its original patina, or color.

Next the team dried the bronze and applied Renaissance wax to its entire surface. Renaissance wax is a microcrystalline polish that acts as a barrier between the metal surface and the natural elements of New York City. Wax is applied from the top of the sculpture to its base and the sculpture is then lightly buffed to remove any unnecessary build-up of polish. The team applied four layers of Renaissance wax in order to protect it all winter long!

The bronze is now clean and freshly polished!