Iconic sculpture Herakles returns to plinth, thanks to gift

Herakles reinstalled

David O. Brown/Johnson Museum of Art
Cornell facilities management and Johnson Museum staff reinstall Herakles in Ithaka I between the Statler Hotel and Uris Hall, Oct. 25.

Even a god crafted out of car bumpers is susceptible to the outdoor elements of Ithaca. The iconic sculpture Herakles in Ithaka I by longtime professor of fine arts Jason Seley ’40 was reinstalled Oct. 25 at the entrance of the Statler Hotel after a restoration made possible by the generosity – and keen eyes – of Presidential Councillor Bob Blakely ’63, MBA ’65, and his wife, Pinky Keehner.

In September 2015, the couple visited campus for the inauguration of President Elizabeth Garrett and took a moment to look at the 11-foot-tall sculpture, an interpretation of the Farnese Hercules completed in 1981 and given to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art by Seley in 1983, the year the artist died.

“I was showing my wife Herakles and telling her about my time with Jason Seley, one of my mentors,” said Blakely, who took sculpture classes as an undergraduate in addition to his engineering courses. “She said, ‘What a shame, the feet are all rusted.’”

That weekend, the couple spoke to staff from facilities management and the museum who soon assembled a committee to address the damage.

Moisture had indeed built up inside the sculpture, which was erected in front of the Statler entrance in 1989, causing it to rust from the inside out, said Gary Wojcik, owner of Accufab, an Ithaca-based custom metal fabricator that performed the restoration. Animals had gotten inside the sculpture’s eyes, said Wojcik, causing even more damage.

A gift from Blakely and Keehner paid for the renovation. A new label will be installed at the site crediting them for their contribution to the restoration.

Herakles on truck

David O. Brown/Johnson Museum of Art
Herakles in Ithaka I is returned to its pedestal outisde the Statler Hotel after a summer-long renovation.

“It has been an ongoing wish for us to raise the money to restore the sculpture,” said Stephanie Wiles, the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Johnson Museum, which holds Herakles as part of its permanent collection. “Bob Blakely and Pinky Keehner offered to help with the restoration, and we were thrilled to partner with them on this project.”

The sculpture was in Accufab’s Ithaca shop for most of the summer. Under Wojcik’s direction (he is also a sculptor), the company added new drainage holes, closed off openings with screens to keep out animals, and replaced deteriorated portions with bumpers found in scrap yards.

“For this project we had to find chrome bumpers, which was hard because they don’t make them anymore,” said Wojick.

The restorers even gave a special treatment to their welding work to mimic Seley’s style.

“Gary and his team did an amazing job, remaining faithful to the artist’s vision,” said Wiles. “This restoration will last for many years.”

Kate Klein is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.

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