Corrosion Resistant Weapons Systems and Sculptures

Tom’s, Moondog, Wandering Rocks, or Gwenfritz may not ring a familiar tone with everyone, though many know these are the names of iconic sculptures created by Alexander Calder and Tony Smith. These artists brought forth totally new perspectives in outdoor sculptures - when Gwenfritz was first installed in 1969, it was the first of its kind and literally broke ground for abstract art in outdoor public spaces. All these works of art are considered national treasures and have recently been repainted with a coating technology that was funded and supported by SERDP and ESTCP. Note that SERDP and ESTCP did not suddenly get into the art restoration world. It just turns out that the coatings we need to maintain our military hardware also meet the needs of the art world. 

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In 1983, ‘Gwenfritz’ was moved to the corner of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue and sat among a grove of trees instead of atop a reflecting pool. A team of conservators disassembled the sculpture to undergo conservation treatment before it was moved back to its original location. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

SERDP provided key support to help formulate, fine tune, and develop a patented water dispersible coating that provides enhanced durability, minimum marring and exceptional flexibility, all key attributes for a coating used to paint outdoor sculptures. The coatings are also the basis for the Army and Marine Corps camouflage topcoats used on all their tactical assets, as was the coatings’ original intended application.

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“Moondog” by Tony Smith, National Gallery Art Outdoor Sculpture Garden.

So one may be asking, how did such a coating end up being sought after by the National Gallery of Art, Getty Museum, and curators working to restore and paint national treasures? While the volume of paint required to paint sculptures is relatively small and commercial paints do exist, the primary considerations are to ensure the paint or coating supports and maintains the artist’s original intent and aesthetics and provides the highest durability. This is where the US Army Research Laboratory Coatings Team and the National Gallery of Art established an ongoing collaboration to provide a coating that both satisfies the aesthetic need and is durable, longer lasting and retains its color and gloss. The effort has resulted in numerous pieces of art being repainted and pleasantly added to the data and information that will further improve the coating for both sculptures and DoD assets. If you are in the Washington DC area, these works of art can be found on the National Mall, in the National Art Gallery Outdoor Sculpture Garden and adjacent to the Art Gallery East wing.

SERDP and ESTCP, with support from researchers in academia, industry and our service laboratories, continue to pursue coatings with enhanced performance and improved environmental impact (see WP-199802, WP-200024, WP-200906, and WP-2207).

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“Tom’s” by Alexander Calder, National Art Gallery

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