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Art Under Wraps

The bronze Large Four Piece Reclining Figure by Henry Moore that has reclined on the grass in front of Lamont Library for almost 20 years is now hidden for the winter in waterproof swaddling clothes. Harry Miller Co. Inc. of Boston wrapped the beloved, problematic sculpture for Harvard Planning and Real Estate, the office that looks after it, which was acting on the advice of such well-wishers as Henry Lie, director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the University Art Museums. Bronze is by no means impervious to weather, Lie explains. Acid rain and snow dissolve it.

People climb on the Moore sculpture with sandy shoes and scratch its surface, which Moore intended to be smooth, even polished. Acid from heaven goes to work, covering the surface with patches of dark oxidation and light green streaking. Acid has actually etched the bronze so that it has begun to look like Swiss cheese. (It dissolves marble as well, which is why the Chinese stele to the west of Widener has been wrapped in winter since 1998.) The most aggressive damage occurs at this season because snow tends to sit on the sculpture and melt slowly, sending rivulets of corrosive water down its flanks, whereas summer rain wets evenly and dries quickly.

Conservators have changed the coating of the Moore sculpture from a lacquerlike substance to wax. Wax when scratched will form softer-edged, less visually distracting patterns of oxidation than lacquer and, because it is more easily maintained, will be more faithfully maintained.

A third measure under consideration is to mostly surround the sculpture with a groundcover planting—not to confront the athletic with a physical barrier, but to suggest that the reclining figure is someone special, as opposed to a jungle gym.