Mother of Dianas
Fort Worth museum restores 124-year-old sculpture to all its goddess glory
An icon of American art has been painstakingly restored, polished up, and installed at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Diana, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), is a 7-foot-tall cement sculpture of the Roman goddess of the hunt that was created in 1894 by Saint-Gaudens as a gift to his friend, architect Stanford White.
The sculpture is part of the Amon Carter’s permanent collection and on view there for the first time. It took a winding path from New York to Fort Worth by way of Tulsa.
White commissioned Saint-Gaudens to create a sculpture for the top of Madison Square Garden in New York City around 1887. The initial version, however, was thought to be too large for the building and was replaced with a 13-foot-tall, bronze weathervane of Diana. It crowned the building from 1893 to 1925.
As the story goes, so enamored of the sculpture was White that he asked his friend for a half-sized version for his own garden. The artist presented a 7-foot-tall cement Diana to White in 1894, and the sculpture resided at White’s estate in Box Hill, New York, for more than 30 years.
“When you see Diana, she may look familiar to you, as the design was one of Saint-Gaudens’ most highly prized creations,” says curator Maggie Adler in a release. “Ours, however, has a unique history as a treasured possession of one of America’s greatest architects and the model on which many other versions were based. I like to think of her as the ‘mother’ of Dianas.”
The Carter acquired the cement sculpture in the 1980s, and it was badly in need of repair. At that time, the torso and legs — created as two separate pieces — were no longer attached, the museum says. The sculpture was temporarily restored for a loan to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. When it returned to the Carter in the '90s, it needed longer-term attention and went into the museum’s storage vaults.
Last year was Diana's lucky year. Adler, along with Adam Jenkins, a Philadelphia-based conservator specializing in large-scale sculpture, got to work returning the 124-year-old sculpture back to public view.
Jenkins first looked inside Diana’s body using gamma radiography to inspect for corrosion. He stabilized surface cracks by injecting adhesive and made a 3D-printed structure to fit in the torso to provide a stronger connection between the top and bottom, the museum says. Art handlers and conservators used a mechanized lift to bring the heavy top and bottom halves together for a more permanent fit.
“A process like this is one of the most special aspects of a museum professional’s career,” says Adler. “To bring an icon of American art back to public attention feels like bringing history back to life. How fortunate that we can rely on the talent of experts and investigate the past to restore Saint-Gaudens’ vision for future generations.”
Diana is on view in the Carter’s Main Gallery. It can be viewed during normal business hours, Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am-5 pm, Thursday until 8 pm, and Sunday from 12 noon-5 pm. The museum is closed on Mondays.