New trends in art conservation, the use of lasers to clean as well as generate an augmented reality representation of an iconic public monument in bronze: The Alma Mater

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Andrzej Dajnowski; Travis Ross; Alan B. Craig; Bartosz Dajnowski;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 60, Number S1, p.S65-S72 (2015)


The 3.66 m tall and over nine-ton outdoor bronze sculpture of Alma Mater, created by Lorado Taft in 1929, is an iconic symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The conservation treatment of the sculpture came with some unexpected surprises, such as the discovery of failing internal ferrous nuts and bolts which needed to be replaced. The treatment involved removing the sculpture from its granite base, dismantling major elements of the sculpture and replacing the ferrous bolts with silicon bronze bolts, laser cleaning the surface with 1064 nm Q-switch scanning lasers, application of patina, applying a protective microcrystalline wax coating, and reinstallation of the sculpture. Analysis was performed with microscopy, X-radiography, and scanning electron microscopy. The conservation treatment involved cutting edge laser technology to remove corrosion from the surface, while structured light three-dimensional (3D) scanning and digital modeling techniques were used to create a new form of public interaction with the sculpture by 3D scanning the sculpture and creating a life like 3D digital model to create an augmented reality Alma Mater sculpture to temporarily take the place of the missing monument. Augmented reality is a technology which overlays a digital representation in registration with the real world giving the viewer an experience of interacting with the digital object as though it was actually present at that location in the real world. It is a longstanding tradition for students to have their picture taken with the sculpture during graduation, and thanks to this innovative use of technology, they were able to get their picture taken with a sculpture that was digitally, but not physically, present. In addition to receiving information and media related to the conservation treatment while it was taking place, the University of Illinois community and the class of 2013 was able to experience the augmented reality monument generated over the original base. This project demonstrates how augmented reality works of art can be used to replace the experience of actual objects that are removed from public view for conservation treatments.