- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

RICHMOND — Henry Clay sorely needs a bath.

George Wythe, John Marshall and Jefferson Davis already have left. And after 70 years of gazing to the north, Robert E. Lee has done an about-face and is ready to head for Maryland.

Curators and workers are carefully bundling up irreplaceable original marble and bronze statues, oil paintings and furniture, and carting them from their state Capitol home for storage and cleaning before the 200-year-old seat of government closes this spring for 20 months of renovation.

“Everybody goes except George,” said private art curator Scott Nolley, nodding toward the priceless marble statue of George Washington that is the centerpiece of the rotunda.

As he spoke, workers lowered a marble bust of Wythe, a Virginia signer of the Declaration of Independence, from its pedestal in the original House of Delegates chamber and gingerly positioned it on a cushioned cart.

Some of the art makes a very short trip: to the new State Library just across Broad Street for cleaning and display, or to the old State Library just across the lawn. The latter is being renovated to serve as the interim Capitol until the $103 million Capitol Square makeover is completed by early 2007.

In the new library, some of the objects in exile will be featured in a display, including the Clay statue. Rough to the touch and smudged with gray from eight decades spent in an iron gazebo on the Capitol lawn until the 1930s, the marble sculpture of the 1800s politician will illustrate the need for continued upkeep.

Some of the pieces travel farther — to specialized, climate- and moisture-controlled storage facilities for precious art. In Lee’s case, the life-size bronze of the Confederate general moves from the middle of the old House chamber, where it has stood since 1931, to an art-protection company in Landover.

“Robert E. Lee going to Maryland? That just bothers me,” drawled Betty Allen, a Capitol tour guide.

It will take two months to remove the about 300 pieces of art from the Capitol, Mr. Nolley said. His company, Fine Art Conservation of Virginia, is working with Library of Virginia specialists on the project.

The Washington statue, completed in 1788 by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, will not move. It will be shielded by an electronically monitored, climate-controlled cocoon of fiberglass, plywood and steel during the work.

“Next week, George is going to look like a loaf of bread in a sack,” said Tracy Kamerer, the curator of state art collections for the Library of Virginia and overseer of the art move.

Similarly, a Eugene Louis Lami oil painting that covers an entire wall in the old Senate chamber will be locked in a massive encasement. The painting, completed in 1840, depicts the storming of British redoubts at Yorktown to seal the Americans’ decisive Revolutionary War victory. The work is slightly more than 12 feet by 17 feet — roughly the size of a movie theater screen — and too large and too delicate to move.

Under Miss Kamerer’s watch, workers on Friday packed away a plaster, poplar and iron model of the Capitol done in 1785 from Thomas Jefferson’s designs. The model and a 1785 Houdon bust of the Marquis de Lafayette are the oldest art objects in the Capitol, Miss Kamerer said.

Having practiced first on an exact replica, art specialists wearing blue rubber gloves lifted the 220-year-old model from its glass-encased pedestal and into a precisely fitted and custom-cushioned wooden crate as delicately as if it were a live bomb.

“OK, this is the 18th-century model,” Miss Kamerer said. “This is scarier.”

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