After years of guarding the 8th Avenue entrance to the Museum, the monumental sculpture “Steelworker” will be removed for conservation work on May 10. The statue, created by artist Luis Jiménez Jr., is made primarily of fiberglass, which requires unique care.
“Fiberglass is not a material that lasts forever,” Chief Registrar Rose Wood explained. “People think it does, but it’s actually hyperscopic—it allows water in. What really protects fiberglass is the paint. There hasn’t been any type of conservation on it since we got it in 1999.”
“During an inspection of the surface we noticed that water had been getting inside the sculpture, causing the steel structure inside to rust,” Conservator Margaret Burnham said. “When the steel rusts, it expands, and has caused cracking of the fiberglass. The paint has also faded, due to constant sunlight.”
Accomplishing the move of such a large statue will require teamwork. CraneWorks, a local company, will help with the deinstallation process, as well as the Chicago-based firm Methods & Materials Inc.
“They’re one of the best companies in the country for rigging, installation, and deinstallation,” Wood said of Methods & Materials. “They work for every major museum there is out there.”
On May 10, Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd. will be closed off for public safety reasons as the statue is moved to an offsite location. It will be held there until the Museum conservation team decides on the best method of conservation and where it should go next.
Burnham said they are still working to find the right options and gain funding for the statue’s conservation, but don’t want to leave it exposed to the elements any longer.
“We don’t want the sculpture to disintegrate more, so we need to act quickly,” she said. “It will not be placed outside again after it is treated.” Many of Jiménez’s sculptures across the country have had to move indoors after suffering weather damage from being outside.
The sculpture was originally created in 1990 for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority of Buffalo, New York. It never made it to Buffalo, but changed locations several times before first arriving at the Museum as a part of an exhibition of Jiménez’s work. The Museum subsequently purchased it, noting the significance it has to Birmingham’s “Steel City” history.
Be sure to stop by and admire this nod to Birmingham’s heritage before it is off display.