BOSTON — One of Boston’s most iconic landmarks is the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial.
The huge bronze relief usually sits on Beacon Street immediately opposite the State House, but right now it’s in a Woburn studio undergoing a huge restoration.
The memorial is in honor of the first African American regiment to fight on behalf of the Union during the Civil War.
The heroics of this regiment were captured in the movie “Glory” which was released in 1989 and featured Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington.
In Skylight Studios, sculptor Bob Shure uses a torch and a brush to restore the bronze which has been compromised by acid rain and harsh weather.
“Artistically, it’s a masterpiece,” said Shure. “There’s no question about it. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the godfather of figurative sculpture in America.”
Restoring the bronze is just one part of the project. The stone foundation was also showing signs of age. The entire area around Beacon Street is being rebuilt.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said conservationist Barbara Mangum, who is working on the project. “The purpose is to conserve the meaning of the piece and what it meant in the past, but also what it means now, and what it means in the future.”
Mangum believes the memorial is as relevant today as it was the day it was dedicated.
Many monuments around the country have not stood the test of time, but L’Merchie Frazier of the Museum of African American History says this Boston memorial does.
“It has been declared one of the 10 most important sculptures in America and that is not only because of its recognition as a sculpture, but in the space of justice,” added Frazier.
Saint-Gaudens hired African American models to depict the soldiers so he wouldn’t rely on stereotypes. Frazier said he also made sure the images of the troops showed purpose and dignity.
“As we look at this monument, we’re not just seeing some men who are marching to war,” said Frazier. “We’re seeing men who have been neglected and unacknowledged and unrecognized in society, and that are now claiming their own recognition to be counted.”
This project is one Bob Sure approaches with great reverence for its role in history and for its artistic achievement. “It’s like having heaven in my studio. Just to look at it and see it close”
The entire restoration is expected to cost about three million dollars and be completed early next year. The work is a collaboration of the National Park Service, the city of Boston, Friends of the Public Garden, and the Museum of African American History.
Cox Media Group