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Earlier this year, the Booker T. Washington Monument — Tuskegee University’s most iconic campus landmark — received a much-needed facelift. Following suit, the small-scale model of that larger-than-life sculpture is now being restored — both the result of generous in-kind partnerships coordinated by the the Tuskegee University Archives.
During the 96 years following the Booker T. Washington Monument’s dedication in 1922, the bronze work of art had accumulated countless layers of grime, tree sap and other contaminants. In April 2018, Provision Contracting Services LLC of Tuskegee volunteered its services to restore the sculpture.
First, the monument was pressure-washed to remove dirt and grime. This was followed by cleaning it with a solvent and sealing it through a heated wax process.
“This was a way we could give back to Tuskegee University and our local community,” said Nicholas Dowdell of Provision Contracting Services, which has performed similar services for monuments at the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. “The restoration of the statue will preserve it for years to come.”
Before sculptor Charles Keck began his work on the Booker T. Washington Monument, he first created a maquette — a small-scale model, but not an exact duplicate, of the monument — for consideration by then-President Robert R. Moton and others. Since then, and before the maquette made its way to the Tuskegee University Archives for safekeeping, it had been damaged due to improper storage, handling and restoration attempts.
Preservationists with the Birmingham Museum of Art recently offered to repair and restore this important model, which they will do in their facilities over the course of the next year. The restoration process will include cleaning the maquette and reversing some of the previous attempts at restoration. Museum preservationists will then repair damaged areas of the maquette and complete the process by repainting the entire piece.
“The maquette is considered a work of art on its own,” said Dana Chandler, the university’s archivist. “The Birmingham Museum of Art is dedicated to maintaining Alabama’s precious treasures, and we appreciate its willingness to restoring this one-of-a-kind piece of university history.”
When restored, the maquette will return to the University Archives, where it will be properly stored and displayed.
The Booker T. Washington Monument, entitled “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance,” was dedicated on April 15, 1922, during a ceremony that 100,000 people reportedly attended. Meant as a visual portrayal of the vision Tuskegee’s founding principal had for educating his fellow African-Americans, Keck included a variety of images, such as a book, plow and anvil, to convey Washington’s sentiments. Central to the sculpture is a recently freed, young male slave having the veil of ignorance lifted off him, while Washington stands above him pointing — providing a powerful image of a better life to come through education and industry. At its base is inscribed: “He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry.”
Prominently on display in the core of campus, the monument is a common destination for campus visitors and a starting point for campus tours. It is considered part of the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site — a portion of the university’s campus preserved and maintained in partnership with the National Park Service. Other portions of campus preserving Washington’s legacy and memory include The Oaks, his Queen Anne revival-style home from 1899 until his death in 1915, and the university cemetery, where his wife, Margaret Murray Washington, two previous wives, and his children are buried.
The University Archives collects, displays and preserves material documenting the history and growth of Tuskegee University. Books (including faculty publications), manuscripts, periodicals and newspapers, ephemera, photographic images, audio recordings, and other archival items are available for research under supervised conditions. It is part of the Tuskegee University Libraries network, which also includes several special collections and The Legacy Museum. Additional information and digitized historic resources are available online at archive.tuskegee.edu.
© 2018, Tuskegee University