Restorative Treatment for the Rocket Thrower

A Note from MAS Director of Public Art Phyllis Cohen

August 26, 2020

The Adopt-A-Monument conservation program paused its planned maintenance efforts this spring in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, by June, we were able to commence this work, which protects our city’s public art against deterioration and damage.

Among the most exciting and challenging restoration efforts of the summer was the complex cleaning and conservation of the forty-five-foot high Rocket Thrower by Donald DeLue (1897-1988). Commissioned for the 1964 World’s Fair, the monument was symbolic of our country’s aspirations during that first era of explorations into the stratosphere. Influenced by the ideal sculpture of ancient Greek and Renaissance masters, DeLue spent a year enlarging a fifteen-foot model of the Rocket Thrower in his studio. Cast in Italy, the statue is supported from within by four bronze tubes held in place by clamps. It was, and remains, a technological tour de force.

To carry out the ambitious conservation/maintenance, on July 28th, Tatti Conservation (Steve Tatti and his sons, Zach and Nick, were responsible for the original restoration in 2013), contracted a specialized lift for the site essential to access the Promethean figure. The work comprised washing the sculpture with mild detergents in conjunction with soft bristle brushes to remove heavy soiling. Once the entire piece was cleaned, the surface was given a sacrificial hot wax treatment to protect the bronze. A torch was used to heat the bronze first but because the external temperature was 90 degrees, less use of a torch was needed. Upon completion of this process, the conservators returned the following day to buff the monument.

  • the Rocket Thrower statue before it was restored with a hot wax treatment
    Rocket Thrower statue before the hot wax treatment. Photos: Tatti Conservation.
    photo 1 of 2
  • the Rocket Thrower statue before it was restored with a hot wax treatment
    Rocket Thrower statue undergoing hot wax treatment. Photos: Tatti Conservation.
    photo 2 of 2

This work was made possible through the Adopt-A-Monument maintenance endowment, which is supported by private foundations and individuals. Ongoing maintenance is critical to the success of our program; it is the essential factor in protecting the city’s notable public art collection.

So far, we have also cleaned and waxed Alexander Holley in Washington Square; George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette in Union Square; Peter Stuyvesant in Stuyvesant Square; the Slocum Memorial Fountain in Tompkins Square; Joan of Arc on Riverside Drive; the Bronx World War I Memorial on Mosholu Parkway; Grand Central Stones in Van Cortlandt Park; and Marquis de Lafayette in Prospect Park.  In September and October we plan further conservation maintenance on Admiral Farragut in Madison Square Park; Henry Ward Beecher in Columbus Park; and the Heine Fountain in Joyce Kilmer Park.