Greenwood Heights

French volunteers perform restoration work in Green-Wood Cemetery

TLC for Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s ‘Angel of Music’ Monument

August 4, 2016 By Andy Katz Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Chantiers, youthful French volunteers, use brushes to apply wax to the bronze patina of the “Angel of Music” at Green-Wood Cemetery. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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Proof that France’s generosity to the U.S. didn’t end with independence or the Statue of Liberty was found in Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery this past Wednesday when volunteers from the renowned preservationist organization Union REMPART braved a mid-summer sun to clean and treat the “Angel of Music,” a striking bronze sculpture that marks the tomb of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the U.S.’s first internationally famous composer and one of Green-Wood’s most venerable interments.

The chantiers, as the youthful volunteers are known, stood atop a 6-foot high platform erected around the sculpture, scrubbing the weather-darkened bronze with long-handled wood brushes under the guidance of experienced chantier Olivier Hergault, while Green-Wood personnel passed up buckets of water mixed with dishwashing detergent.

“In France, we have a lot of things to be preserved,” Hergault said later.  “It’s a way to share our knowledge of the process with people here.”

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With 2016 marking its 50th anniversary, Union REMPART has grown to include 170 French nonprofit organizations dedicated to preservation of historic sites.  

REMPART’s ties to New York City go back 15 years, when an exchange agreement was initiated with Preservation Volunteers, a nonprofit organization founded by Park Slope residents Evelyn and Everett Ortner. The Ortners, already leaders in the brownstone restoration movement, were inspired, according to the organization’s website, by firsthand observations of French volunteers working to restore a 13th-century chateau on the Normandy coast.

“We’ve been doing this at Green-Wood for 15 years now,” said Frank Morelli, current plant and facilities manager, but who had just been promoted to restoration manager when the exchange began in 2002. “We can show them all the facets of what we do … maintaining, cleaning, all the variety of restoration.”

Dripping suds from toe to wingtip, it was time for the Angel’s rinse. While Hergault and his chantiers took a short break, Arturo Juarez and Alexis Rojo, students from Williamsburg High School of Architecture — partnered with Preservation Volunteers — passed high-pressure sprayers all over the Angel.  

After a thorough rub down, she was ready for waxing.

“We are pleased to strengthen our relationship with Preservation Volunteers each year,” Green-Wood President Richard Moylan said in a press release. “I’d like to thank all the preservationists and volunteers for their commitment to helping keep Green-Wood’s history alive.”

Recent past projects at Green-Wood include the cleaning and waxing of the 9-foot Minerva sculpture at Battle Hill and last year’s restoration of the grave of Sarah W. Kairns (1743-1854), the oldest person buried at Green-Wood.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was born in New Orleans. His compositions drew heavily on French and Creole elements. Popular among Parisian audiences, and known for maintaining a whirlwind performance schedule, his work was championed by contemporaries such as Hector Berlioz and Frederic Chopin. After his death, a marble statue stood over his grave for more than a century until it was destroyed by vandals in 1959. A new bronze statue designed by Giancarlo Biagi and Jill Burkee was unveiled over Gottschalk’s grave in 2012.

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