Conquering the (never really conquered) Wild

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Conquering the Wild (Accession # 1934.0629.000001) seen from the Lions Bridge. Image credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Anyone who has traversed The Mariners’ Museum and Park’s Noland Trail, or visited the Lions Bridge, has passed by one of the Museum’s largest artifacts: Conquering the Wild. Arguably less remarked upon than the iconic Lions seated just yards away, Conquering the Wild is nonetheless a staple in the history of the Museum and iconic in its own right.

Like the Lions, Conquering the Wild was designed in clay by Anna Hyatt Huntington and scaled into Indiana limestone by Robert Baillie.

Anna designed the statue in commemoration of her father-in-law, railroad magnate, and Newport News Shipbuilding’s founder, Collis P. Huntington. The monumental central figure includes a young man attempting to reign a rearing horse, a testament to Collis P. Huntington’s lifelong efforts to capitalize on the resources around him and his success as an industrialist. This central tabluea is flanked by allegorical statues of Art, Industry, Science, and Learning, the tools Huntington masterfully utilized to complete his goals.

Conquering the Wild by Anna Hyatt Huntington. Image credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

The installation of Conquering the Wild was a testament to industry and innovation in and of itself. Carved in New Jersey, the statue, including its 56 ton pedestal, had to make its way down to Newport News by rail, once again harkening back to the legacy of Collis P. Huntington. Temporary rail road track units were then used to transport the statue’s components over a mile between the railroad and the location now known as Monument Hill.

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Over the decades since its installation, the landscape around Conquering the Wild has changed, but the statue has remained as a constant and familiar reference point for locals and visitors alike.

Conquering the Wild. Image Credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

The statue has weathered storms and vandalism (which led to the eventual installation of the iron fence), along with subsequent cleaning and repairs. The last significant conservation work took place in 1998, with a complete treatment performed by a conservation company still in business and consultation with the Museum today. This conservation treatment was funded by The Bronze Door Society.

A little over 20 years after its last major treatment, Conquering the Wild was due for a day at the spa.

Objects Conservator Paige Schmidt cleaning Conquering the Wild. Image credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

As part of a comprehensive Outdoor Collection Maintenance Program, the Museum’s conservation department cleaned the statue over the course of a week in October. While Objects Conservators Paige Schmidt and Erik Farrell were out at the statue daily, the project was all hands on deck for the department. Even our book and paper conservators came out to lend a hand!

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The cleaning involved removal of wasps nests, biological growth and staining, and dirt and pollution build up in the pores of the stone. This was achieved with a biodegradable cleaning solution, soft bristle brushes (even over-zealous scrubbing can damage stone!), and a pressure washer to rinse the statue and kept a safe distance from the stone. We don’t want to remove any of the actual stone while we clean, and some of the components have previous breaks or small cracks that must be treated with great care.

During cleaning of the horse and youth. This image shows various stages of cleaning, which is a multi-step process. Green biological growth is visible on the man’s arm, black staining and growth are visible on the lower section of the horse, and the orange-pink coloration on the side of the horse is a section undergoing biological die-off from the application of a cleaning solution. Image credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Check out some of the before and after cleaning images below.

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Similar to the first round of cleaning the Lions in 2019, the stone remained a pinkish-orange for several days directly after cleaning. This is due to the die-off of biological growth across the surface and within the pores of the stone.

Directly after cleaning, stone appeared orange. Image credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.
A unique view. Image credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

The cleaning of Conquering the Wild is the first phase of a plan to treat the statue, which will include repairs to breaks and addressing carbonate deposits from water migration through the concrete steps. However, cleaning will now be an annual part of our growing Outdoor Collection Maintenance Program here at The Mariners’ Museum and Park. So keep an eye out for us as you enjoy the beauty of our park and the rich history it harbors!

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