James Deering amassed an extremely varied collection of sculptures and architectural elements to decorate Vizcaya’s formal gardens. These include ancient and Baroque artworks that he purchased in Italy, monumental follies that he commissioned American artists to create in the 1910s, and fountains carved by stonemasons on site in the local limestone, usually called “coral stone.”
The preservation of such a large and diverse collection in a sub-tropical environment and hurricane zone poses enormous challenges. From 2009 through 2012, Vizcaya undertook the comprehensive restoration of about 180 of these exterior sculptures and architectural elements, including fountains and urns.
This project has consisted of several steps with a number of goals. At the outset, we researched the objects to understand whether and how they had been altered since their creation and placement at Vizcaya. Some, for example, had protective iron supports installed, and exposure to the elements caused these supports to rust, expand and damage the sculptures over the years. Conservators began their treatment by cleaning the objects to remove decades of biological growth and fully reveal existing conditions.
This allowed us to develop work plans focused on reversing prior conservation treatments that were failing or inappropriate; protecting objects from hurricanes; and slowing and monitoring deterioration processes. We also developed a maintenance program that will help to preserve Vizcaya’s unique outdoor collection for future generations.
There are several highlights of this historic conservation campaign: We significantly improved the condition and appearance of Deering’s exquisite collection of ancient marble columns and eighteenth-century garden statues purchased in Italy. We extensively treated the large travertine fountain at the center of Vizcaya’s Fountain Garden. This was designed in the 1720s by Filippo Barigioni (1690–1753), the architect of the fountain in front of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy, and enlarged for installation at Vizcaya. And at the Forecourt, in front of the Main House, we conserved the two monumental Baroque gates from the Palazzo Bevilacqua in Verona, Italy.
The project is funded through Miami Dade-County’s “Building Better Communities” General Obligation Bond program and grants from the Tiffany and Co. Foundation, the Federal Government’s Save America’s Treasures program, American Express and the Villagers, Inc. The three-year project is being performed by Conservation Solutions, Inc. of Washington, DC, and Santa Fe.