Thinker Statue Secrets Revealed

by Erin Keane on April 8, 2012

The University of Louisville’s copy of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker recently underwent a thorough restoration. The process revealed many details about the statue’s secret life, including a history of vandalism and other previously undocumented details hidden under layers of old paint and debris.

The restoration team will speak Friday on a panel at the Public Art and the City Symposium organized by the university’s Center for Arts and Culture Partnerships.

“Rodin’s Thinker Then and Now” begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Ekstrom Library’s Chao Auditorium and will feature curator Bernard Barryte, UofL fine arts associate professor Christopher Fulton and chemistry professor Dick Wittebort, Thinker conservator Shelley Reisman Paine and laser metrics engineer Bill Mongon.

The panel will discuss the techniques the team used to restore and analyze the statue’s condition. Fulton says that once the piece was restored to its original state, some new mysteries emerged.

“They found inscribed into the sculpture, which must have been inscribed into the original wax that was used in the lost wax casting process, they found a little piece of graffiti. Someone had added the initials LH, and then added the date, Nov 22, 1903.”

Who is LH? Nobody knows. The date is about a month before the statue was cast. These findings and others will help art historians form a more comprehensive story of this statue and inform studies of its fellow replicas. The Thinker statue has resided outside of Grawemeyer Hall since the university acquired it in 1949. It is the first of the 22 authorized copies of Rodin’s original scuplture, and its casting was supervised personally by the artist.

The symposium will also feature a luncheon keynote by Pittsburgh’s public art director Renee Piechocki on “Growing Successful Public Art Initiatives” at the University Club, and an afternoon session will discuss recent art projects in Owensboro, Frankfort and Columbus, Ohio.

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