EagleHerald Staff Writer
MARINETTE—The restoration of the Isaac Stephenson statue was completed Sept. 4, ending an approximately two-year-long endeavor to revive and beautify this piece of Marinette’s cultural history. Mayor Steve Genisot said the restoration was part of what he is hoping will be a more comprehensive plan to maintain various cultural objects throughout the city.
“That’s part of our history and what our community was founded on,” he said. “If we don’t maintain it, it will be lost. I think now that we’ve done this restoration, there will be more focus on preserving other monuments moving forward.”
The restoration cost $5,510 with some additional costs for scaffolding and insurance. Owner of MariMar, Inc. Mark Davenport contributed the insurance and installed the scaffolding. Davenport is also in charge of installing the lead in the base joint of the statue to protect the joint from weathering.
American sculptor Nellie Verne Walker created the Stephenson monument, according to Alderperson Jason Flatt in “A Brief History of Riverside Avenue.” The City of Marinette unveiled and dedicated the statue in June 1922. It sits across from the homes at 1919 and 1931 Riverside Avenue that formerly belonged to Stephenson’s daughters.
Stephenson was indefatigable. Born in Maugerville, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1829 and settling in Marinette in 1858, he was a lumberman, farmer, shipbuilder, businessman and politician, according to “Recollections of a Long Life,” his autobiography. He was the chairman of various committees, a member of the Wisconsin State assembly, a congressman, a senator, the President of the Stephenson Banking Co. His name permeates the geography and institutions of the area—Stephenson Library, Stephenson Island, Stephenson Street, Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Stephenson, Michigan and Town of Stephenson, Wisconsin. He died in Marinette in 1918. His remains rest in the Forest Home Cemetery between Mary Street and Cleveland Avenue.
Associate Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) and Historic Preservation Commission Member James LaMalfa initiated the Stephenson monument restoration two years ago when he noticed the layer of green corrosion forming on the bronze statue.
LaMalfa said that, particularly as a practicing artist with work displayed around the city, restoring and maintaining the condition of the statue was important to him.
“I’m interested in promoting visual arts as representations of the city,” he said.
LaMalfa brought the statue’s condition to the attention of Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson and Associate Professor of History at UWGB Dan Kallgren.
“I kind of just figured the green patina that was developing was just part of the statue,” Kallgren said. “So kudos to the city and to (James) LaMalfa for realizing that the restoration needed to be done.”
Kallgren contacted Milwaukee-based objects conservator Cricket Harbeck, who agreed to undertake the restoration. She made her first trip ever to Marinette in September 2020 to assess the statue’s condition.
“It’s a beautifully executed and fabricated monument,” Harbeck, who holds degrees in art history, studio art and art conservation, said.
Harbeck identified corrosion as the primary concern for the statue’s condition. She said the monument was also worn from the touch of visitors and covered in dirt, debris, graffiti marks and spider webs.
Because the Stephenson statue is outdoors and frequently visited, Harbeck chose a restoration process that involves using a softer coating to make re-treatment easier.
She started the restoration process Aug. 30 by documenting the monument with a written report and digital images. Then she brushed away accumulated detritus and gave the statue a wet treatment with a mild surfactant, or soap.
Since some of the original patina of the monument was still intact, Harbeck chose to locally treat the corrosion using abrasive pads and applying a new patina that matches the original color of the statue. She then heated the monument with a propane torch, covered it with a custom wax blend, highlighted some areas with tinted wax to give it more depth and applied a final “sacrificial” layer of softer wax to protect the layers beneath.
Harbeck agreed to do annual maintenance for the statue moving forward if the City of Marinette desires this.
Davenport and Genisot mentioned that the city is looking for a volunteer to maintain the floral garden bed at the base of the statue. City resident Gail Melgary formerly maintained the garden bed. Davenport said interested community members may contact the mayor’s office at 1-715-732-5139.
Kallgren and LaMalfa both pointed out the document that rests under the proper left arm of the Stephenson statue. They noted that the removal of corrosion revealed on the document a map of Door County and the Upper Peninsula with a dot marking Marinette.
“I think the statue just looks marvelous,” Kallgren said.
“You can sorta just see a twinkle in his eye that you couldn’t see before.”