Boston College tackified and neglected mascot is Meiji masterpiece

A bronze eagle that spent 90 years exposed to the harshest of elements on a column like an aquiline Simeon Stylites has been found to be a masterpiece from Japan’s Meiji period (1868–1912). The 340-pound bronze of an eagle taking flight (or landing) was donated to Boston College in 1954 by Gus Anderson, a gardener who had inherited it from the estate of collectors Larz and Isabel Weld Anderson (no relation) after the latter’s death in 1948. The Andersons had acquired it in Japan during their 1897 honeymoon. They installed it in the Japanese garden of their palatial estate, Weld, in Brookline, Massachusetts, where it remains for five decades. When it moved to Boston College it was again placed outdoors, this time perched atop a 34-foot column in front of Gasson Hall. It was also gilded for some ungodly reason, possibly because the eagle is the mascot of the college’s sports teams and their colors are maroon and gold.

In 1993, a workmen making repairs to Gasson Hall saw from their high viewpoint that the eagle had taken a beating by the severe New England weather. It was removed from the column and disassembled into five component parts. Each of them was used to make a plaster cast from which a replica of the eagle was created. The replica was then put on top of the column and the original boxed up, each part in its own box, and stored in the studio where the casts had been made.

It was broken down and unappreciated for a couple of decades until an artist who had traced its history alerted the college that they actually had something special there.

The university called in the local firm Rika Smith McNally & Associates to conserve the work.

A Meiji attribution was confirmed by an analysis by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The high lead content corresponded with karakane alloys used by Meiji artists to achieve a hallmark fluidity in wavy parallel lines, which are “incredible” around the beak and eyes, says Rika Smith McNally.

“When we got to the pupil, we knew we were dealing with a Japanese Meiji work because the eyeball was made using the shakudo technique,” in which a raised black copper pupil is attached to the centre of a gold-leafed eye, she adds. “It gives a very animated appearance to the eye.”

The eagle, put back together and restored to its original glory, has gone on display at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art in Eaglemania: Collecting Japanese Art in Gilded Age America, an exhibition centered around the eagle, its importance as a motif in Japanese art and the fashion for Japanese art in among the wealthy bluebloods of late 19th century Boston. The exhibition runs through June 2nd of this year.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to celebrate the painstaking restoration and research that recently revealed the artistic significance of a virtually lost monumental bronze masterpiece from Japan’s Meiji period,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “The exhibition and accompanying scholarly volume contextualize the history of Boston College’s eagle sculpture and the argument for its probable attribution to the circle of master artist Suzuki Chōkichi (1848–1919) with an array of magnificent loans, many of which have never been displayed publicly in New England.”

This video recounting the bird’s journey from ruination to renewal has some breathtaking views of the details of the sculpture. I got a lump in my throat when the conservators removed ever so gently cotton swabbed away that hideous gilding.

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3 Comments »

Comment by Emily
2019-03-14 08:42:29

Thankfully, the workmen spoke up about the condition of the eagle.

 
Comment by Laura
2019-03-15 14:30:06

What a spectacular piece! I was surprised looking at the image closely to see what I thought was a copper penny tossed onto the back of the bird. Then I realized it is a screw, probably holding the wing on. Doesn’t it seem odd that the screw is so obvious? I would think it to have been more camouflaged.

 
Comment by Debi
2019-03-18 15:29:27

Fascinating article!

 
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