“We knew we were going to have to replace it.” Robert Ooley is both the sole Santa Barbara County architect, responsible for any modifications for nearly 600 structures in the county, and a founding trustee of the Courthouse Legacy Foundation, an organization charged with overseeing and funding the preservation and restoration of the numerous architectural artifacts and historic art pieces housed at the County Courthouse. “But it wasn’t obvious at first with what.”
What they’re replacing is the iconic Santa Barbara landmark statue, The Spirit of the Ocean. Completed in 1927 as part of the new Santa Barbara County Courthouse, the statue has been stealing the show ever since. The statue is meant to convey Santa Barbara’s deep ties to the sea, but it just as effectively imparts the city’s love of physical beauty, its youthful spirit, and its temperate climes – the two young figures are naked.
Discussing the fate of The Spirit of the Ocean, Ooley wears his Legacy Foundation hat. “The courthouse became a California Historic Landmark in 2003, and a Federal Historic Landmark in 2005. That ties our hands considerably. But that, in many ways, is a good thing.”
Historic landmark status carries with it the requirements that any updates or modifications to a landmark facility go through a stringent set of filters and standards enacted by the U. S. Department of the Interior. Ooley has a long familiarity with the standards. “You preserve in place.” This is the highest standard in what Ooley calls an escalation process. “If you can’t do that, you restore in place. Then you rehabilitate in place. Finally, you reconstruct. That’s the Presidio project downtown. It was gone and they’re rebuilding it.”
The Spirit of the Ocean sculpture was given the ultimate bad news by expert stone conservators in 2004. Major portions of the structure could crumble. Pieces could fall off. The whole thing could collapse in on itself. Like a cancer patient, it was given six months to live.
Ooley was well aware of the struggles to save the piece. The efforts spanned decades. More than any other component of the courthouse, or any artistic artifact managed by the county, the fountain had caused trouble. Trouble means decisions which can be hard to come by in a bureaucracy; and money, harder still to find.
Ooley started the process of figuring out what to do. “Everything creates a debate.” One of the first ideas put forward was to remove the sculpture altogether and install a planter and reflecting pool in its place. The proposal would resolve many of the problems of such a temperamental and public piece and would not require another expensive replacement one or two hundred years hence. But the plan didn’t align with U. S. Department of Interior standards for historic structures.
“The obvious thing was to replace the sculpture with an identical piece.” The Courthouse Legacy Foundation considered other substances than the sandstone of the original. Bronze can be forged to look exactly like sandstone. Even from inches away, you would not be able to tell. But it would ring the truth under a rap of your knuckles but the pool effectively forms a moat around the statue and knuckle rapping would not be easy.
While bronze would have to be sculpted and forged, there were other even easier materials. Fiberglass would also rap hollow under inquisitive knuckles, and it could also fool you from inches away. But it could be extruded by a machine based on a three-dimensional scan of the original. No sculptor. No forge. No environmental impact reports. You could practically order it over the web with a credit card.
But bending the rules and guidelines of preservation did not sit well between meetings. One of the tenets of historic preservation is to use the same materials, the same tools, and the same processes to the extent possible, in order to reach the identical end result that was intended with the original. Thinking about it, considering the intent of William Mooser III, the original architect, the design and execution of sculptor Ettore Cadorin, and the expectation on the part of experts and the public for authenticity, Ooley and the Courthouse Legacy Foundation reached the conclusion that a replacement statue would be carved from sandstone, the same Coldwater sandstone it was originally carved from.
Important public statues are carved in granite or marble, or are forged in bronze, the substance chosen to match the cultural perception of timeless validity. Such statues don’t rot. They don’t crumble. Cities are defined by, and remembered for, their statuary – the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Nelson’s column in London’s Trafalgar Square, the Statue of Liberty. They hold their ground with a steadfast permanence that is a reflection of their significance. Otherwise, they are toppled and either destroyed or moved to the shadows because their significance is no longer ground to stand on.
You could hardly get rid of a public statue if you wanted.
In Santa Barbara, in 1927, Venetian-trained sculptor Ettore Cadorin completed the world-famous Spirit of the Ocean sculpture and fountain in front of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. It appears to the naked eye to be a single mass of carved stone, fourteen feet long, eight feet tall, and six feet deep. It features a reclining male looking east, a strikingly similar reclining female also facing east, and a stylized dolphinfish between them, spouting water from its mouth.
Just twenty years after the sculpture was completed, the fountain ceased to operate. A few years later, the stone itself began to fail, visibly. The figures’ limbs were looking “leprous.” Sometime in the fifties or sixties – the records of the work have not surfaced – someone determined to patch the failing stone and then protect the substance of the sculpture by painting over it with an impervious acrylic intended for sealing swimming pools.
“You couldn’t tell it was painted.” Peggy Hayes was the first professional docent at the courthouse and, as president of the Docent Council, dealt with the problems as they surfaced starting in 1979. “It was painted the color of sandstone. They couldn’t get it all off, but they got most of it.”
The sculpture was hewn from local Coldwater sandstone. Not granite. Not marble. Not bronze. Sandstone must breathe to stay alive. Air and moisture wicked into the surface must easily escape or else become expansive crystals of ice in the cold, or agitated molecules of steam under the heat of the direct sun. The conservator called the paint a “steam jacket.” Painting it was akin to slipping a plastic bag over someone’s head. The sandstone inside had begun to die.
Cemetery managers, more familiar as a group with aging pieces of carved sandstone than just about any other, don’t spend a lot of time or money trying to save sandstone markers. Sandstone deteriorates. Families and individuals know that when they select their marker stones. It’s obvious if you’re at a cemetery. All you have to do is look around.
Granite markers might flake and crack if the stone has flaws or if the cemetery has a lethal mix of hard water and hot sunshine. But this is rare. Most granite markers look pristine a hundred years after installation.
Marble, softer than granite, will wear, crack, and chip, especially up against lawn equipment. Fingerless and wingless angels and cherubs are a familiar sight in old cemeteries. Lichen, which penetrates the surface with microscopic roots, loves marble best. But that takes decades. Centuries.
Bronze is nearly immutable. Water, weed-whackers, hearses, and still the marker comes clean with the first rain.
Sandstone, however, lasts longer than a generation, but shorter than a biography. Great leaders who hope memories of them last longer than for others, choose granite, or marble, or bronze for their memorials.
But William Mooser III, the lead architect for the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, wanted Ettore Cadorin’s sculptures to tie in seamlessly with the great sandstone of the arch that the statue accents and sits in front of. The sandstone of the arches in turn ties in seamlessly with the low sandstone walls that surround the building, and the walls and foundations that intersperse the streets of Santa Barbara and climb into the hills. It was the local and natural choice.
It appears possible that courthouse architect Mooser III did not fully comprehend sandstone. His “working drawings [of the fountain]” according to a letter from docent Peggy Hayes, “show the couple pouring water from an amphora-shaped vessel down small steps.” Ooley interpreted the steps as “a washboard.”
Sandstone and water don’t mix. Mooser’s stone steps or washboard, either one, would have been thoroughly eroded in a matter of years.
Sculptor Cadorin had worked many different substances over the years and for many of the best art patrons and clients in the world, including royalty and the Roman Catholic Church. But the Spirit of the Ocean, along with the four other sculptures he completed for the courthouse, was the first set of sandstone sculptures he is known to have tackled.
Even so, he would have know with his first chisel cut if not well before, that the need to eventually replace the sandstone sculpture and the fountain beneath it, were effectively built-in when he finished carving it 83 years ago. But Cadorin, had he offered a guarantee, would probably have guessed the statue would last between 200 and 500 years. ‘Just don’t water it,’ he might have said. ‘And whatever you do, don’t seal it.’
The county did both.
Stone for The Spirit of the Ocean was quarried in Refugio Canyon, 25 miles to the west. It was cut from a bed of the oldest surface stone in the county, Coldwater sandstone. Formed 33-55 million years ago during the Eocene period, a time when palm trees were pushing into Alaska and the equator was a band of deserts, Coldwater is made up of successive layers of sand-sized grains laid down in shallow offshore marine estuaries and intertidal zones.
The sediment layers were then hardened by centuries of new sands and silts laid over and pressing down on the layers beneath. As a result, the stone is made up of horizontally layered beds of varying thicknesses. Cut open and exposed to sunlight, the stone weathers in buffs and browns, fried-butter yellows and crisp cerise. Smaller interbeds of silts and shale, perhaps laid down by storms following fires in the hills above, drop veins of turgid grays and greens into the stone.
The Coldwater strata was formed, uplifted and tilted many millions of years ago and is now visible in a near vertical spine across the front of the Santa Ynez Mountains at about 3,000 to 3,500 feet elevation. Harder than the material that sandwiches it, it has eroded into long rows of exposed rock, rising like knobby vertebrae, elevated from the ground receding around it.
A thick wedge of the stone lays on the surface of a large area of Refugio Canyon. This being the source of the original stone, if the County of Santa Barbara was going to replace the famous and iconic statue, then Refugio Canyon seemed the natural place to start.
County Architect, Robert Ooley, traveled to the canyon several times in the course of a few months in the company of master masons Oswald de Ros and Bill Mahan and others. The canyon quarries have been closed for many years, abandoned with massive hewn rectangles of stone left sitting on the verges and roadways, and other stones marked but uncut in the bedding planes visible in the walls above.
Ooley’s team met with Jim Brown, owner of the Circle Bar B Ranch in Refugio, as their guide. Brown grew up in the canyon and remembered where the main quarries were located. Pushing through overgrown alders and poison oak, they found two of the major sandstone quarries several hundred yards from the road. Numerous blanks carved from the walls sat awaiting inspiration and the return of the trucks. None were large enough for the base stone for project at hand. Several other blanks were marked in the quarry walls between significant veins where discontinuities between layers would make the stone structurally weaker.
The Refugio quarries are not like the limestone quarries you see in Indiana or Pennsylvania. In those quarries, the cuts drop from a forested plain into deep, vertically-walled open pits, often filled with decades of rain water to form squared-off lakes. Local kids swim in them and movie companies set up on the shorelines to tell summertime coming of age stories.
Not in Refugio. In Refugio, you approach the quarries from below. The cuts rise into the near-vertical walls that loom above you. The process looks more like that used to remove thick chunks of bark from a tree.
To replicate the statue in every significant detail, the replacement statue would also be carved from four large rough-cut rectangular blocks of stone called blanks. The base blank would need to measure five feet square and 18 feet long. The three top blanks would need to be roughly four-by-six-foot cubes. They would need more than one of each of these because you never quite knew what you would find down inside the rock. Of course, there’s human error, too.
Quarrying new stone from at or near the source of the original stone seemed like the thing to do. Send in stone cutters to locate two or more base blanks and pull them from the wall. Then accumulate five or six cubes that could serve as the top of the sculpture.
Padre and Associates was called in to help determine what it would take to make this happen. A water course slithered past the quarry sites and red-legged frogs were on the property. The Corps of Engineers had jurisdiction because of their flood control work in the near coastal zones. County Flood Control would need to be involved. Both the California and Federal Fish and Wildlife agencies would need to be involved, knee-deep in waders and paperwork. The County was facing a county environmental review process that was looking onerous.
How Ettore Cadorin was selected to carve the County Courthouse sculptures is not documented. Like sculptor Nick Blantern, selected to replace the Spirit of the Ocean, Cadorin lived in Santa Barbara a few years before he carved the five sandstone pieces on the front of the courthouse – the Spirit of the Ocean fountain, the larger-than-life-sized statues of seated Justitia and Ceres, and the large medallions depicting Santa Barbara’s economic rootstocks, Agriculture and Industry. By 1926, when he was contracted for the work, he was teaching fine art at Santa Barbara State College (a precursor to UCSB), maintaining a studio on De La Guerra Street in the old adobes across the street from City Hall, and was living with his wife of sixteen years, Lovie Mueller Cadorin, at 2693 Puesta del Sol.
Cadorin came to Santa Barbara in a roundabout fashion. Born in Venice, Italy, Cadorin’s father and grandfather, and many generations before, going back to 1400, “had been privileged to maintain a sculpture studio on one of the quaint waterways of Venice.” Such studios were coveted and are granted their right to remain in the district by royal decree. Ettore was born in 1872, 1876, 1878 or 1879, depending on where you find him referenced. Everyone agrees he died in 1952 in Sonoma, California.
When Cadorin was 12, Queen Margherita of Italy saw his work in his father’s studio and was impressed. As a young man in Venice, the young Cadorin completed two large marble statues for the Royal Palace in the Square of St. Mark, a marble memorial to commemorate Richard Wagner on the Palace Vendramin, and an ivory bust of Benedetto Marcello for the Benedetto’s Conservatory of Music.
At the age of 20, he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and maintained a studio there. While in Paris, he completed a memorial for the cemetery of Montmartre and bas-relief portraits of the royal princesses in ivory, his preferred material, for the Queen of Italy.
In 1915, Cadorin was invited to teach Italian literature and art at Columbia University. He remained for two years, holding one-man exhibitions in Boston and New York and executing selected commissions. One of these, dedicated to the American military, was placed in Edgewater, New Jersey, a town that takes its sculpture seriously. The piece is a massive bronze tablet with raised figures of three soldiers. For the Karagheusian family, he sculpted Death and Resurrection in bronze for their plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.
Cadorin’s War Monument, Edgewater, New Jersey. (Courtesy, Courthouse Docent Council)
Cadorin returned to Italy to serve in the Italian military during WWI. But after the war, the Italian government, prizing him as an ambassador for Italian art, sent him back to the United States. His job was to lecture and sculpt and organize exhibitions of Italian art, a role that brought him west.
He held exhibitions in Los Angeles and Pasadena, and at some point in the early 20s, he received a commission to sculpt a garden fountain in Santa Barbara. He came to visit the site and the city and returned soon after to stay. By 1924, he had a studio at 116 E. De La Guerra and had landed the teaching job at the State College. A year later, he and Lovie moved to the house on Puesta del Sol.
Cadorin was a vocal proponent of the reinvention of Santa Barbara following the earthquake of June 1925. On July 8, 1925, just 10 days after Santa Barbara’s destructive and history-altering quake, Cadorin was given a slot on the front page of the Morning Press directly beneath the banner. The article, entitled, “Santa Barbara Can Be Made City to Attract Whole World” stated that “Santa Barbara should be rebuilt in high artistic style.” The city should rebuild “even the houses which are not damaged, but are ugly, and would spoil the whole effect.”
In 1926, clearing the way for the $10,000 commission for the five courthouse sculptures, he completed what he called the Angel of the Rose for the Walter Cobb family memorial at the Santa Barbara Cemetery. They renamed it Resignation. This statue was in marble. For a later commission from the Clark family, the Venetian Cadorin sculpted an Irish cross, also of marble.
Cadorin was selected as the sculptor for the courthouse because of his impressive resume and skills. But William Mooser III was from San Francisco. Mooser, like Cadorin, had also attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Given that their ages were anything from 21 to 14 years apart, it is unlikely they met on the campus. The assumption is that Cadorin was recommended to Mooser through local contacts.
With the Santa Barbara Courthouse, you have to get your Moosers straight, especially your William Moosers. William Mooser I (1834 – 1896), was born in Geneva and founded the Mooser architectural firm in San Francisco in 1855. William Mooser II (1868 – 1962), took over the firm and took the lead in winning the contract for the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. However, once the project was awarded, it was handed to his son William Mooser III (1893 – 1969) who, to confuse matters, went by William Mooser, Jr..
To execute the Spirit of the Ocean, Cadorin and his team, put out the call for models. Over 400 youths turned out. Cadorin selected his two favorites and found out only later that they were brother and sister, Maya and Wolfram Sexauer.
Maya and Wolfram Sexauer, aged 16 and 14 respectively, posed individually, never together. They posed nude for three hours a day, three days a week, over a period of six months. Cadorin’s studio was still across from De La Guerra Plaza, and the proximity to horses in the nearby stables made someone with a flyswatter standing by a necessity for the sittings.
The children were paid 50¢ an hour until their family learned that Cadorin was earning $5,000 for the Spirit of the Ocean alone. The children’s rate was raised to 75¢ an hour. Wolfram, interviewed in 1984, had felt tepid about posing nude, but wanted the money for flying lessons. His sister had a “European nonchalance” about nudity and was unconcerned.
The Sexauer family arrived in the United States in 1910 and arrived in Santa Barbara a few years later. They lived in the hills near the County Bowl at 1120 North Milpas and raised milk goats for sale. The children were known for running about naked, living in a tree house, and being generally ‘odd.’
Their mother, Frieda, was a teacher. The father, Hermann F., was on the sharp edge of social mores. He listed himself as mushroom grower from the mid-1910s through 1923. He then became a cement worker and eventually, in 1925, a building contractor. In 1927, when he applied for U. S. citizenship, witnessed by family friend Edwin Gledhill, he was denied citing his role as an “alleged WWI anarchist.” During the 1930s he served as the city arborist.
But Hermann was a devout vegetarian and in 1942, he opened the Sexauer Natural Foods Shop. The ad in the phone book reads “Battle Creek, Loma Linda and many other health foods. Dehydrated vegetables, fruit juices. Soy, rye, and whole wheat breads. Healthful candies. Raw sugar and honey.” He opened at 12 W. Anapamu. The oldest daughter, Barbara, worked as a clerk in the store. In 1955, he moved the store to 31 E. Victoria.
Maya’s life was a tough one. Her brother felt she lived “a sad life.” She married Fred Seyer, who according to his great niece Irene, was an eccentric gardener on a large estate in Hope Ranch and lived in a ramshackle home at 622 Fremont. Seyer was a few years younger than Maya’s father – Seyer retired just five years after Hermann – and Irene recalls news of the marriage and the rumor soon after that Maya had run off.
After the split, Maya’s name then began to appear as a clerk at the Sexauer Health Food Shop, her residence the family home once again. In 1966, Hermann closed the shop and retired. In 1974, he passed away and Maya sold off the property at 1120 N. Milpas. She moved a block down and across the street to 1025 N. Milpas. In later years, the house was stacked with boxes of memorabilia. The Seyers had one daughter who moved to Georgia.
Though he disliked modeling, Wolfram’s other modeling work to pay for flying lessons paid off and he spent WWII as a glider pilot, doing reconnaissance over New Guinea and the European theater. He married a blind date named Stacey and they made their home in Pleasanton, California. When the restoration fund needed to be seeded with community funds in 1982, Wolfram donated the first $25.
The earliest record of damage to the statue and attempted repair is a 1949 article in the Santa Barbara News-Press (remember that paper?) that stated that the fountain had been dry for two years due to a broken pump. But there was more to it than that. Sometime in the 1940s or 50s, probably in response to failures in the surface of the statue, the statue was patched and painted over with what conservator Nathan Zakheim would later call “pool paint.”
For sandstone, this is the equivalent of pulling a plastic bag over someone’s head. Failure begins to follow very quickly.
Sandstone is a porous stone. It wicks in water and air, and like any solid or liquid body, releases it more slowly than the air around it. A wet hot stone needs access to open air in order to evaporate the trapped moisture. A wet cold stone needs the air to allow the freezing process to occur outside the stone. The paint forced these processes to remain inside the surface of the stone, creating pockets of air and then sand inside the sculpture.
In 1976, the basin beneath the fountain began to leak badly and the fountain was shut down again. This began an eight-year process to analyze and restore the fountain. The basin was repaired in 1978, but notes of concern were recorded about the statue. In 1979, the docent’s council hired a stone conservator to circle the sculpture tapping on it, like someone looking for hidden passageways in a haunted house. They found a pencil-sized hole in the abdomen of the male figure and a hollow behind it.
Nathan Zakheim was called in. In September of 1979 he provided his report which said the coating of pool paint was creating a steam jacket over the stone. He recommended removing the paint and restoring the stone beneath. The docents, the courthouse’s eyes and ears, and most importantly, its heart, took up the mantle. They decided to raise the money necessary for the restoration estimated at $35,000.
But they quickly learned the mantle was worn and threadbare. The County Architect at the time told the docents that he had requested money in the budget for the restoration three years running and had been turned down each time. He called their plan “an exercise in futility.”
David Bisol, then general manager of Metropolitan Theaters in Santa Barbara and chair of the Courthouse Docents Council, and long-time docent Peggy Hayes, were unfazed by futility. They developed a plan to counter the years of neglect and the current climate of disinterest. (Bisol today serves as the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Historical Society. (See David Bisol: Santa Barbara’s Man of History.)
In early 1980, Bisol and Hayes approached supervisor Robert Kallman, who they believed would give them a favorable hearing. Kallman agreed with the need for the project and said they had two days to get ready for the next Board meeting. Bisol and Hayes prepared talks. Cee Puppo, a fellow docent, prepared five samples of crushed sandstone in geologist’s sample bags, one for each supervisor.
When it was Hayes’ turn to talk, she recalls, “I had such stage fright, I don’t know what I said.” Bisol, however, gave a pointed talk about the importance of the fountain to Santa Barbara and punctuated it, as Puppo rustled up the aisle and dropped the bags of sand in front of each supervisor, with “Do you want to see your statue return to this?”
They left the room while the board deliberated and only learned from a journalist leaving the room later on that they’d received their $20,000 request. That year, Bisol had a replica of the fountain created for Metropolitan Theater’s Fiesta Parade float.
A special docents committee was formed to specify and oversee the work and the restoration project began later that same year. The Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles was recommended as a resource, and in 1982, they sent stone conservators Jerry Podany and John Twilley up to evaluate the statue. Working with Zakheim, they recommended erecting a weather-proof enclosure over the statue to increase its stability during on-going restoration work.
They Getty team also recommended the County use a consolidant known as Wacher H, made by a German company. The compound was applied like paint in successive coats and allowed to soak in. Peggy Hayes, Docent Council President at the time, recalls that “it was the state of the art treatment at the time.”
The Wachter H was backed up with a regimen of carefully colored mortar to both recreate areas where the stone surface had flaked away, or spalled, and to inject into cracks and hollows.
A second stone conservator, Myrna Saxe who was working or restoration projects at Hearst Castle, reviewed the Getty proposals and concurred. Structural engineer Mel Green provided recommendations for stabilizing the base of the piece.
Zakheim carried out the program. He removed the paint, stabilized the base, applied Wacher H to create a stable exterior, and mortared the cracks and flaws. He also isolated the statue from the building, creating a breathing space for the stone. A waterproofing agent was used to coat the back of the sculpture to keep new moisture out. He then recarved the E. CADORIN which had almost completely flaked away in the base of the sculpture.
He was interrupted in his work by the February 1983 visit of Queen Elizabeth of England. The enclosure was removed, his dust and tools and supplies stowed away, and the sculpture made presentable with an array of new flowerpots over the top and rear of the fountain.
As soon as the Queen left the grounds, the enclosure was back up and repairs continued. The pump was replaced and the pool was repaired and retiled by Terry Brennan using Quamagra tiles from Japan, supplied by TileCo. Finally, two years after the project began, the fountain looked beautiful for the first time in decades, and on January 23, 1984, at 12:15 in the afternoon, the restored fountain was dedicated.
In November of 1985, almost two years after the dedication of the restored fountain, Nathan Zakheim was back, cleaning and patching and injecting the statue again to restabilize weakened areas. Discoloration was apparent between the patches of Wacher H and the adjacent stone. They were close in coloration when the patches were fresh and the stone dry, but aging and moisture heightened the differences.
A near annual cycle of evaluation and repair was begun. In July 1986, sculptor David Falossi did the work. But a month later, vandals threw paint on the statue and stains had to be removed. The grouting around the statue was sealed.
In 1988, conservator Rosa Lowinger was contacted. In her report, she noted that the Wacher H worked only for dry conditions, such as in interior spaces far from fountains. She recommended a change to Jahn M-70 consolidant, going by the trade names of Aquia Creek Sandstone mortar or Cathedral Stone.
In 1989 and 1990, Lowinger did the cleaning and patching and injections. Late in 1990, Glen Wharton did the treatments. For the years 1992 through 1997, Griswold Conservation Associates of Culver City did the work on annual basis. Conservator Andrea Morse becoming expert at the nurture and care required. In 1998, Morse moved to Sculpture Conservation Studio, also in Culver City, and the county followed.
The reports Morse prepared piled up redundancies. A “white, crusty mineral deposit” formed each year around the dolphin’s mouth where the water pipe emerged. The sandstone sculpture developed “friable, flaking” areas with unstable sandstone underneath the surface. And the statue had “accumulated dirt, leaves, flowers, coins, cracking (mostly stable), and cobwebs” since the last visit.
The hollow at the waistlines of each figure were injected each year and yet were hollow each year, pointing not to hunger on the part of the twin nymphs, but to sandstone deterioration. The feet and hands of the figures, and the face of the dolphin, were opening with new cracks, flaking, and spalled pieces continued to fall away.
Each year, Morse patched and injected. As a result, the statue was beginning to grow. The legs and knees were swelling, toes and fingers appeared arthritic. The dolphin’s lips swelled like an over-botoxed Hollywood starlet’s.
In 2004, Morse informed Ooley that wholesale failure was certain and imminent. Peggy Hayes felt they’d done everything they could. “We talked to everyone about it.” Ooley turned to the Department of Interior standards for preservation to determine what to do.
In Y2K, when all the computer programs were supposed to fail and bring the industrial world to its knees, architect Robert Ooley had been with the county for ten years. It was at this juncture that he was coming to understand that the 71-year-old courthouse needed a concentrated and long-term restoration and preservation plan.
In a few short years, Ooley’s efforts resulted in both a State Historic Landmark designation in 2003, and in April of 2005, federal designation as a National Historic Landmark. This opened the way for state and federal grant monies, and in 2004, former County supervisor Naomi Schwartz, with several others including Ooley, formed the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Legacy Foundation to coordinate the numerous preservation projects and help with fundraising.
Preserve in place? Restore in place? Rehabilitate? Or reconstruct?
The Spirit of the Ocean could not be preserved in place because the stone was too deeply rotted by natural and human impacts. Ooley and his consulting conservators felt that it fell into the category of restore in place.
Restoration in place means that the original materials – local sandstone – will be used, and the original methods largely followed. The methods Blantern and his team will use are as close to ‘in place’ as they can get. Ooley returns to the theme of artistic license. “No one should be able to tell that this is ‘their’ work.”
There is an education component to the Department of the Interior standards and Ooley and his team have tackled this aspect of the work also. “Projects like this usually just show up,” Ooley points out. “People don’t know what happened or where it came from. Like magic.”
For the recent restoration of Van Cina’s representation of an early Fiesta at the courthouse, art restorer Teen Conlon of the South Coast Fine Art Conservation Center, did the tedious work with thousands of Q-tips on a scaffolding in the courthouse halls. The project took twice as long as it would have otherwise because she spent a lot of her time talking to people about the process.
For the Spirit of the Ocean, many portions of the project cannot be executed in public, but the finishing of the stone can be. A couple of months prior to completion, possibly as early as November of 2010, the four massive Coldwater sandstone blocks will be moved to the Courthouse lawn and the completion of the carving will occur in public.
Originally, Ooley projected the cost of the project at $309,000. Later estimates pushed $400K. At the unveiling of the boulders on La Patera Ranch, he didn’t disagree when someone suggested the project would cost half-a-million.
The money is largely the responsibility of the Courthouse Legacy Foundation. The CLF consists of a 19-member volunteer board and a part-time Executive Director, Deborah Schwartz. But the CLF wields an inordinate influence. The County Courthouse, second only to the Santa Barbara Mission, is the most important structure in the city and county. Preservation of the site has moved much higher on the public agenda since the late 1970s when money could not be squeezed from (or for) stones.
The CLF board members are Board President Tom Thomas, and alphabetically by last name, Sue Adams, James Ballantine, Michael Dominguez, Carol Fell, Brad Ginder, Britt Jewett, Jennifer K. Hanrahan, Barbara Lowenthal, Bill Mahan, Keith J. Mautino, Timothy A. O’Keeffe, Judge Frank J. Ochoa, Robert Ooley, Debbie Saucedo, Jean Scheibe, Naomi Schwartz, Nola Stucky, and Alice Van de Water.
The first project the foundation was involved with was the rehabilitation (read artistic license) of the Hall of Records. The hall had been transformed over the years from a bright, citizen-centered, space with beautiful wood and tile work, graceful interior lines, and a voluptuous copper-lined skylight to a dark, foreshortened space with public access pushed to the dark margins of the room by a large and inefficiently designed bureaucratic core.
Ooley, working with restoration architect Britt Jewett, removed the false roof that had created a second floor inside the old atrium, restored the skylight that had been covered over with plywood and roofing materials in the mid-1960s, and re-envisioned the interior space to recreate the experience of openness and efficiency.
Other projects have included restorations of some of the artworks in the Courthouse, and more recently, cleaning of all sorts of surfaces in the aftermath of a small fire in the building last year.
“There’s a roughly ten-year economic cycle,” we’re in Ooley’s office. “Ever since the 1950s, the county has been running projects in opposition to the cycle. In the downtimes, we’re planning projects so that when the upturn comes, we’re lined up and ready.” But not every project can wait. Some dribble from good times into the bad. The CLF works on the same schedule.
CLF Executive Director, Deborah Schwartz, daughter of Naomi, works 12-hour weeks for the foundation. “That’s what we can afford right now.” She does a little bit of everything when she’s on. They’ve raised $200,000 for the fountain project, largely from a County Redevelopment Agency (RDA) grant, County funding, and from donations of services – Oz Madars is donating the boulders, Marborg Industries is donating trucking services, and Specialty Crane the moving services. Schwartz’s focus now is to raise the remaining $300,000.
One of the ideas for a fundraiser is a visit for a small group to the very private, very remote, and immensely picturesque La Patera Ranch where the boulders are being mined. Another is to possibly sell off the fragments of the source boulders that are not ultimately used.
“Cadorin used pointing.” When Nick Blantern inspected the sculpture, even after 80 years of spalling stone and mortar-based treatments, he could see tiny indentations all over the stone. “Pointing is a very old stone-carving tool, an early 3-D rendering tool,” that allows sculptors to work from full-sized or scale models in clay, plaster, wax, or Styrofoam, and then transfer the finished design into stone. Clay models are obviously much easier and cheaper to craft and modify than stone.
The device, called a pointing machine or macchinetta di punta, was invented by French sculptor Nicolas-Marie Gatteaux (1751–1832) and can be tightened onto an existing model. A steel pointing needle is set to a specific place on the model. The machine is then transferred to the stone and the carving of the stone can be precisely measured to replicate the model.
The method leaves a master sculptor to concentrate on the original artistic clay model, AKA Marquette, while leaving the dusty and tedious stone-carving to students and assistants.
“Cadorin probably made a half- or three-quarters-sized clay model in his studio, and then used pointing to carve the sandstone.” Blantern will do something similar.
He will be working with a team of three or four stone cutters for this project. Mason Chris Scott and his team will use “rock drills with plugs and feathers” to slough away the weathered exterior of the boulders out at the La Patera Ranch. Plugs are wedges. Feathers are thin steel or carbon fiber shims, something like car lock jimmies used by AAA, that are slipped into the drilled holes to act as sleeves for the wedges. They keep the wedges from binding against the stone.
Plugs and feathers are the oldest and still one of the best ways to split stone. Small plugs and feathers used in most stoneyards for finish work run 5/8 inch to 3/4 inch. Larger sizes run up to 1 ½ inch for splitting large rocks. Using these, Scott’s team will “carve them out kind of like slicing the crust off a loaf of bread.”
The holes are drilled along existing cracks or bedding planes in the stone. Once in, the plugs are tapped until the crack extends. It requires straight holes, a relatively soft touch, and patience as you await the permission of the stone to crack where you’re expecting it to crack. It comes down to experience, which Chris Scott has.
“I’ve been carving stone since I was kid. My father and I were working the Refugio Canyon quarries until a few years ago. The whole canyon is essentially a quarry.” Blantern agrees. “I can’t really tell whether the boulders are free from veins. I rely on Chris’s experience. He knows.”
The sandstone blanks, once freed from the boulders, will be delivered to a workshop. Blantern and his team will start reducing the blanks to match the original sculpture. To do this, they, too will use pointing, but the model, instead of using a living sculptor who would naturally make something slightly different, will be fabricated from the existing sculpture.
To accomplish this, the original fountain will be scanned into a three-dimensional computer model. That model will be retouched in the software to reduce the sculpted figures to their original sizes. Once a true-to-the-original model exists, a full-sized, three-dimensional foam model will be extruded. Using this as their marquette, the team will use pointing and start the “noisy and dusty” work of carving out the blanks. If a blank has a fatal flaw or weak vein in it, it can be discarded before the whole thing goes public out on the courthouse lawn.
When the blanks are fairly close to their final forms, Marborg and Specialty Crane will be called back into action to move the four pieces to the courthouse lawn. News trucks with pop-up communications dishes will line the curb and commentators with microphones, make-up, and klieg lights will emerge. Nick Blantern and his team will lower their chisels and hammers and explain what they’re doing while they’re doing it.
“I don’t think the original can be saved,” Ooley says. Blantern concurs. “It would depend on how much the county wants to spend to save it. There’s no telling how badly deteriorated the stone is.” But Ooley feels duty-bound to save what he can.
Ideally, he would like to see the original sculpture lifted from its perch and moved to a permanent, dry home. The three upper stones have had the least amount of work done on them and are probably the most stable. The base stone, at fourteen feet in length, undercut by rot, ant colonies, and hundreds of pounds of Wacher and Jahn mortar will be like picking up a mummy after a thousand years. It could crumble to dust in a very public display.
If that happens, but one or more of the other pieces are intact, Ooley sees the possibility of combining the remaining original stone pieces with portions of the extruded foam marquette to create a realistic facsimile of the original.
Everyone involved agrees that the new sculpture should have a much longer lifespan than the original. This stone will get annual check-ups from the very start. The stone itself will be denser and more resistant to water and vapor intrusion. A breathable sealant, something like Gore-tex for sandstone, will be applied as a further barrier to moisture. They’ve learned the lesson of the flowerpots and the pool paint. They’ve spent the money. This statue will be given room to breathe.
The Courthouse Legacy Foundation still needs to raise $300,000 to complete the project. Click here to donate.