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Thursday, December 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Saving 'The Spirit of Greenbush' statue
The statue, which commemorates the bygone Greenbush neighborhood, has fallen into disrepair.
Credit:Carolyn Fath

The spirit of Greenbush is alive and well, but its namesake monument is in trouble. The pyramidal statue at Regent and North Murray streets has fallen into alarming disrepair.

The historic Greenbush neighborhood was roughly centered on a triangle formed by West Washington Avenue, Regent and South Park streets. Some called it a slum, but it is recalled today as an Elysian community of Italians and Sicilians, along with East European Jews, a few Irish and, increasingly after World War II, African Americans. It was thoroughly integrated.

Then it was bulldozed, in the name of 1950s urban renewal. There are a few outlying remnants, such as the Italian Workmen's Club.

To memorialize what had been lost, "The Spirit of Greenbush" was dedicated on Oct. 14, 2000, during a public celebration. The unveiling was performed by Mayor Sue Bauman.

Its subject is "true community." Madison-based sculptor Antonio Testolin said at the time, "I chose to express this theme with two figures carved in [Italian] marble reaching out for each other. Their heads are turned away so as to be unaware or indifferent to what race or ethnic background they are helping."

The statue, which weighs more than 20 tons, also includes quotations from former residents and photo-etched images of lost landmarks. But portions of the granite cladding have come loose, and images are now difficult to see. The city of Madison Arts Commission, which commissioned the work with Greenbush natives and their descendants, is taking action.

"I believe it will require some major conservation if we do it correctly," says Karin Wolf, commission administrator. "How major is the question. I've been consulting with the artist for the last couple of years about how best to address it."

"The granite cladding was not installed in the best way," says Testolin. "There are 100 ways to do it. I did my best within the budget, and I just had to trust the installers."

He also notes that all outdoor public art needs periodic care. In fact, he wrote a conservation plan for "The Spirit of Greenbush" even before its unveiling.

"If you build a house, you expect that you'll have to fix it up every few years," he says. "Unfortunately, what happens in Madison, and all over the United States, is that we put up art and we forget that the elements have a role."

He says that the easiest repair will be to the "whiting," allowing the etched photos to again strongly contrast with stone. Wolf is having tests run.

Wolf does not want to abandon or remove the piece, she says, "because I understand the emotions behind the folks that raised the money for it in the first place. Once we have a plan we will know the budget. Once we know the budget I can take it to the neighborhood and see if they are willing to do a fundraising campaign to restore it."

Wolf says that, in contrast to many other works of public art, "at least with 'Spirit of Greenbush' we have a living artist who wants to see it restored and is willing to help, and the same contractors in town who installed it the first time."

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