BAR HARBOR — While some bemoan the aging condition of the Village Green, others have been working behind the scenes to restore a bit of Old World glory to this town’s green space.
Sculpted by an Italian artist in the 17th century, the bronze fountain that stood on the Village Green from 1909 until its removal two years ago has been restored, reworked, and made ready to spout water from its 21 spigots.
With a new foundation, the complete fountain should be ready to bring a refreshing beauty to the green within the next few days, and perhaps spark other volunteer efforts to rejuvenate a central gathering place in this New England community.
Money to refurbish the fountain was raised by a private group of residents, who initiated the project more than two years ago. Castine sculptor Clark Fitz-Gerald restored the sculpture at no cost to the town.
The town’s public works director took on the project in the last few months, ensuring that the plumbing and electricity would be in fine working order when restoration was completed.
The fountain was cast for an estate near Florence, Italy, about 350 years ago. In 1909, it was brought to Bar Harbor and was donated to the town by Phillip Livingston, a summer resident who donated it in memory of his wife.
Topped by a nude boy with a fish, the sculpture apparently caused some consternation to local churchgoers soon after it was donated to the town. Sunday worshippers found themselves staring at the anatomically correct young man from their church pews and requested the statue be turned away from the Congregational Church.
The fountain has been dry for more than 30 years. When the plumbing malfunctioned, it was never repaired and the statue was left to languish in the weather.
Two years ago, resident Dana Geel and others who had been involved in forming the Island Association of Museums and Historical Societies launched a fund-raising campaign to restore the fountain to working order. About $4,000 was raised through the efforts of the group which called themselves the Friends of the Fountain.
Fitz-Gerald, whose own works grace private and public collections around the country, heard from Geel and volunteered his expertise to restore the sculpture.
According to Fitz-Gerald, the statue is primarily of red bronze material with a high copper content. Fitz-Gerald described it as “a beautiful piece of work” that has a value of at least $100,000.
“It has stood for over 300 years,” Fitz-Gerald said this week. “And it was still in almost perfect condition.” The cracks in the base, he said, were made at the time it was originally cast.
Pointing to the intricate array of noses, gargoyles spouting water, dolphins, wolves and garlands that ornament the pedestal of the fountain, Fitz-Gerald said he believes a master sculptor had created the work. Young apprentices may have done some of the work higher up on the pedestal, he added, because the work is not as intricate.
By Friday, much of the fountain had been placed on its foundation. Lyle Dever, the public works director, said he hopes the fountain may be ready to turn on within the next week of so.
Following the recommendations of Fitz-Gerald, who consulted with a restoration expert from the Smithsonian Institute, Dever’s crew has reworked the plumbing using stainless steel. A recirculating pump for the water has been installed, as well as lights in the rebuilt foundation.
Fitz-Gerald painted the entire sculpture with a linseed oil and turpentine finish for protection. He also welded the cracks in the larger of the two dishes that surround the pedestal. The bowl also has been lined with an epoxy paint to prolong the life of the finish.
Dever said Friday he also plans to follow Fitz-Gerald’s recommendations for maintaining the fountain, with yearly attention paid to any refinishing that may need to be done.
As recommended, water will not flow through the plumbing once freezing temperatures threaten, and efforts will be made to keep it covered during the winter months.
The prolonged maintenance of the fountain will be the responsibility of the Public Works Department. Those who make wishes with a coin toss will be contributing to the upkeep of the historic fountain.
“It has been a work of love,” Fitz-Gerald said when describing the countless hours he has devoted to the project. “The town has a beautiful thing. It was a marvelous gift to the town and it should be taken care of.”