Governors Island National Monument, established as a unit of the National Parks Service in 2001 encompasses 22.78 acres of the 172 acre island in New York Harbor. Two fortifications, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, are its primary historic resources. Though a quiet place throughout the year, the island comes to life during the few months in summer when it is made open to the general public. The monumental gateway of Fort Jay surmounted by an exquisitely carved sandstone sculpture, the trophèe d’armes, is believed to have been built in 1795-96. The sculpture, simply referred to as the “Eagle”, is an ensemble of various elements of artillery with an eagle at the center, supporting a shield with the state-seal of New York, flanked by a mortar and gun, with four flags, and a liberty-cap set on top of the fasces as a backdrop.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy toppled a large portion of this sculpture. At the moment, the gateway is covered in a veil of scaffolding while a group of people work relentlessly towards its restoration. I have been fortunate enough to be a small part of it. As the summer intern for the project at Fort Jay, I have been involved in a number of tasks ranging from hands-on work in the field to researching in front of a laptop. Doing things like splitting a stone using feathers and wedges, boasting the surface with a chisel and hammer, making plaster molds for the stones to be carved have all been very educational; simultaneously inspirational for me. I have come to realize that not everything we work with at this age needs to be “high-tech”; simple acts like using apiece of lumber as a lever to move a block of stone requires quite a lot of thinking (and hard work!). No matter how uncomfortable I felt with a respirator on or how tedious to regularly wear metal-toed shoes, or how annoying to take a detour and get a hard-hat when going up the scaffold, working in the field with my colleagues have reinstated in me the absolute necessity of maintaining physical safety at all times. I have also been exposed to the process of making the right choices, and reaching a consensus that supports the ultimate goal of the project (for instance when I observed a meeting between my colleagues and the structural engineers). I have been creating a number of drawings of the stones being worked with, which can help to document the restoration process. I believe this is critical for the project since we are still struggling to collect information, owing largely to a lack of proper documentation, regarding earlier repair works carried out on the sculpture for better understanding of its originality.
In the remaining weeks, I hope to find further information on the nature of earlier repairs while, more importantly, look forward to spend more time in the field working with sandstone, going up the scaffolding to clean the sculpture, helping in making drawings, do some mortar analysis to match the color of filler materials, or simply observe how the work is done!