Liz MacGeachy

Photos supplied courtesy Tatti Restoration

The Baltimore Battle Monument before & after cleaningThe Carrara marble sculpture of Lady Baltimore with a wreath in one hand and a rudder in the other has overlooked Baltimore’s Courthouse Square for almost 200 years, and her age is showing. Years of exposure to weather and pollution have caused the stone to crumble, appendages to break, and the details of her face to fade.

In an effort to preserve the sculpture and the Baltimore Battle Monument on which she stands, the city called in the help of New York art conservator Steve Tatti. Tatti has been preserving and restoring fine artwork for more than 30 years, including the regular maintenance of Baltimore’s outdoor monuments and sculptures since 1981. 

“It’s an exciting project for the city of Baltimore,” said Tatti. “The timing was right.”The timing is this year’s 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

A gentle water mist rinses off the deposits of urban pollution and salts from Lady Baltimore. Other restoration measures included repairing major cracks in the masonry and patching the griffins statues flanking the tower.The Baltimore Battle Monument with Lady Baltimore at the top commemorates the Battle of Baltimore from September 12-15, 1814. The battle was a turning point for the War of 1812 and the inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s poem that would later become the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

The anniversary has created an interest in landmarks related to that war, including the Baltimore Battle Monument. That interest helped secure the funds to preserve the Lady Baltimore sculpture and the monument, which is important to the city of Baltimore because it honors its citizens who died in the battle and is found on the city’s official seal.

The $148,500 restoration will include moving Lady Baltimore to the nearby Walters Art Museum and replacing the original sculpture with a reproduction, which will be created by Tatti and his team.The 40-foot monument was designed by French-American architect Maximilian Godefroy and completed in 1825.

Lady Baltimore’s restoration included reattaching historical reproductions of her broken arms. Full replacement with a weather-stable stand-in is slated for completion by May 2013, when the cleaned and stabilized original statue will be retired and relocated to an indoor museum environment.The monument includes a rectangular base with 18 layers of stone that signify the number of states in the union in 1814. It resembles an Egyptian tomb with doorways on each side, symbolizing eternity. Around the column on which Lady Baltimore stands are four winged griffins and the names of the 36 soldiers and three officers who died in the battle.

The 12-foot statue of Lady Baltimore on top was carved by Antonio Capellano. She holds a laurel wreath – a symbol of glory – in her raised right hand and a rudder – a symbol of navigation and stability – in her lowered left hand. Both arms have been broken and replaced over the years.This project actually started early in 2011 when Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) hired Tatti to complete a restoration of the monument.

Tatti and his conservation team spent last summer gently cleaning the monument and sculpture with misting bars, removing soil and damaging salts from the stone, replacing broken mortar and filling cracks, and repairing the surrounding iron fence. They also created molds of Lady Baltimore and the griffins, in case the opportunity arose to reproduce the figures. They didn’t realize that opportunity would come so soon.In April, CHAP again called in Tatti and his expertise.

This summer Tatti and his team will create a reproduction of Lady Baltimore using the mold they made last year. They will start with a “plaster positive,” which includes all the deteriorated parts of the sculpture. They will fill in these parts to make the eyes, nose, ears, and other crumbling areas more distinct and smooth.

“We aren’t trying to make it look exactly like it did when it was first carved, but the features will be much more distinct and visible to the viewers below,” said Tatti.

Lady Baltimore closeupThe reproduction will be made of a durable marble and cement-based material to help it withstand the weathering of time. The four griffins that adorn the base will be reconstructed on site and their missing features restored.Once the reproduction is complete, the original statue will be carefully moved to an interior museum space where the historical figure can be preserved in a stable environment.

Tatti hopes that move and the new installation will be complete by the spring of 2013. “Lady Baltimore is an extreme example of what can happen to an outdoor monument because that stone is relatively soft,” he said.

“This is a new phenomenon to us in this country, but of course in Europe they’ve been dealing with this problem for years. They’ve brought most of the good stuff indoors and replaced them with replicas. So what we’re doing here is not without precedent. If we want to preserve our outdoor statuary we’re going to have to do more of this.

”Preserving historical works of art is nothing new to Tatti, who comes from a family of artists and art conservators. His father, Alexander Tatti, owned and operated a bronze foundry and art fabrication studio in New York City. His uncle, Benedict Tatti, was an art educator and renowned modernist sculptor.

Lady Baltimore in a complete body mold, and a griffin in three stages of molding and repair.Steve Tatti followed in the family tradition and trained as an art conservator in Florence, Italy. He later worked as a conservator at several museums of the Smithsonian.

In 1985 all three of the Tattis worked on a project restoring the verdigris patina of the Statue of Liberty. “It was a wonderful experience, mostly because I got to do it with my father and uncle, who are Italian-American,” he said. “Making that trip everyday out on the boat with them and the other workers had a feel of the emigrants riding the boat in. It was an almost mystical experience. Of course it was exciting working on the Statue of Liberty, but I especially felt privileged to experience it with them.

Lady Baltimore in a complete body mold, and a griffin in three stages of molding and repair.”Since then, Steve has worked on numerous conservation, restoration, and repair projects, including the Hildreth Meiere Medallions in Rockefeller Center, the JFK American Airlines’ Carybe Murals, hundreds of art objects damaged by fire at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, and many others.  Tatti works with metals, stone, wood, glass, and plastics.

Since he often works outdoors, he must deal with the elements as well as the artwork. Steve has a favorite memory of an unusual restoration job, a story of having to replace the head of a statue of George Washington located in Fairmont Park in Philadelphia. The statuary was located off the beaten path in the woods, and it was quite a hike to get to it. The head of Washington had fallen off and rolled down the hill into the creek. Tatti and his crew had to figure out a way to get the heavy stone head up the hill and onto the statue to reattach it. They managed to come up with some rudimentary scaffolding to get the job done, but the nose was broken.

They needed to create a new nose, but since they were out in the woods, there was no model.“Then somebody remembered his picture on a dollar bill and we pulled one out to use that as the model,” said Tatti. “Actually it’s a pretty good likeness of him.”

More about Steve Tatti, including a short video on the first phase of his work on the Baltimore Battle Monument, can be found at