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Madison is well known for its Lady Liberty on the Lake. But a less-publicized replica of the Statue of Liberty stands in Warner Park, a distressed maiden badly in need of rescue.
Though other city sculptures are also suffering, a survey for the Madison Art Commission in 2007 determined that Liberty was “in most urgent need of care.” The copper statue is cracked, broken and stained – a decrepit version of the New York City original.
The statue “exhibits advanced signs of deterioration from neglect and failed repairs,” the survey found. “It’s sad that our national symbol of liberty is the most damaged public sculpture in the city.”
The Madison statue was one of more than 200 replicas of the Statue of Liberty presented to communities around the United States from 1949 to 1952 by the Boy Scouts of America as part of a 40th-anniversary project to “strengthen the arm of liberty.”
Kansas City businessman and Scout Commissioner Jack Whitaker launched the long-ago project. A Chicago company manufactured the replicas for the Kansas City Boy Scout office, which then sold them to troops and others around the country at a cost of $350 plus freight.
Madison’s statue, which stands about 8½ feet tall and sits atop an 8-foot tall base, was brought here with help from the local Rotary Club.
Madison has long had a special relationship to Lady Liberty. In 1979, leaders of the Pail and Shovel Party placed a life-size papier mache replica of the top portion of the statue on frozen Lake Mendota, giving the appearance it was rising out of the lake. The statue has lived on in postcards and memories, and a later incarnation has made repeat appearances.
The copper Lady Liberty was first located in Giddings Park on the Isthmus. It was moved to Warner Park in a plaza near the Community Recreation Center sometime in the 1970s after it was vandalized at its original location, said Karin Wolf, administrator of Madison’s arts program.
But Tony Rajer, a local art conservator who teaches at UW-Madison, said the worst damage occurred when a dump truck backed into the statue while it was in city storage.
“The sad thing is that the Statue of Liberty replica in Madison has had several locations and has been abused over the years. It has gotten worse because the city has never invested any money in its care and repair,” Rajer said. “There have been decades of neglect.”
Now there’s a budding interest in repairing and preserving the statue.
John Frye, an active member of the Yahara Boy Scout District, is trying to get Scouts interested in the project. “Maybe this could tie in with a school history lesson,” said Frye, 69, a North Side resident who takes a Liberty display with him when he drives to various Scout functions.
And Wolf, who has consulted with Rajer and other art conservators, is hoping a community discussion planned for later this month might spark a fundraising effort to repair the statue and form an endowment to care for it.
Rajer, who repaired and restored another Liberty replica in Mason City, Iowa, said the Madison statue could be restored for $20,000 to $25,000 and could take about a year to complete.
Made of copper sheets about the thickness of a penny, the statue has no internal structure to give it strength. To restore it, workers would have to build a stainless steel armature to hold it up, Rajer said, similar to a human skeleton
“This statue is repairable,” he said. “The patient is very sick but would make a full recovery.”
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