Statues Crumbling at Norfolk Botanical Garden

Phidias has seen better days. Phidias is one of 11 statues at the Norfolk Botanical Garden that have deteriorated over time. The pieces, at the garden since the early 1970s, were created after the Civil War to pay homage to some of history”s greatest artists. They have suffered from prolonged exposure to the region”s humid weather and nearby Norfolk International Airport”s toxic fumes.

Rembrandt has been in storage ever since a hurricane knocked out his pedestal years ago. Raphael is missing part of his palette and nose. Italian sculptor Antonio Canova also is missing part of his nose and several fingers. Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Crawford have suffered similar injuries.

Local advocates hope to raise about $1.5 million to restore the pieces.

Patricia Rawls, who serves on the restoration committee, said they”re still trying to figure out how to accomplish this. The money would cover both the repair of the originals and the creation of reproductions to take their places outside.

She said they hope to have a company selected by next month. Ideally, laser scanning, which would aid in the restoration and serve as an archival record, could be done on site so visitors would be able to watch the conservator, she said.

That could mean moving the statues indoors from the garden”s popular Statuary Vista and replacing them with reproductions.

The project has a passionate and powerful ally: The Virginia Military Institute family.

The statues” creator, Moses Ezekiel, was a prominent VMI alumnus. Ezekiel, a Richmond native, was the first Jewish cadet at VMI and a Confederate soldier who fought in the Battle of New Market.

His classmates who died in that battle are buried beside a poignant statue he created on the VMI campus titled “Virginia Mourning Her Dead.” A ceremony is held by the statue every year to mark the battle”s anniversary.

To this day, the piece has the power to stir the emotions of City Councilman Andy Protogyrou, who graduated from VMI in 1984. Protogyrou said the city should play a role in restoring the statues, but he hopes the money will be raised privately.

The councilman first became aware of the statues as a college student, when he served as an escort in the Azalea Festival, then held at the garden. The festival is now known as the Norfolk NATO Festival, and this year”s parade is being organized – coincidentally – by Ezekiel”s great-great-great-nephew, Alex Pincus.

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