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Iconic Ben Franklin Parkway sculpture is getting a face-lift

Seven workers in hardhats began the process of dismantling the sculpture bolt by bolt in a day-long operation Thursday. 'Iroquois' will get a fresh coat of paint in Delaware over the summer.

Workers dismantle the Iroquois sculpture on Thursday.
Workers dismantle the Iroquois sculpture on Thursday.Read moreJOSÉ F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Restoring a 17.5-ton public sculpture is not as straightforward as sending a crew of workers to slap on a fresh coat of paint. Restoration crews run the risk of clashing with the elements or worse, skipping some nooks and crannies.

All that’s to say, Philadelphians shouldn’t panic when they pass by an empty Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 25th Street. Iroquois, the iconic 40-foot, red-orange sculpture that’s lived across the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 2007, is simply going to get a face-lift in Delaware this summer, its first major conservation since it arrived.

Seven workers in hardhats began the process of dismantling the sculpture bolt by bolt in a daylong operation Thursday morning with the help of two cranes and a flatbed.

The Association for Public Art, which preserves and promotes the city’s public art pieces, noticed the sculpture’s signature hue was fading in recent years and began restoration plans.

“If the coating starts to disintegrate in any shape or form, then it exposes other parts of the sculpture to the elements that could further degrade,” said aPA deputy director Laura Griffith.

While Iroquois creator Mark di Suvero continues to make art in his late 80s, he couldn’t oversee the dismantling of his sculpture in Philly, sending studio representatives in his place. His studio and the aPA coordinated to take the sculpture to Color Works, an industrial paint facility in Delaware.

Iroquois is not new to travel. It made temporary stops in Texas and Michigan before finding a permanent home in Philly and becoming an Eakins Oval landmark, one of seven sculptures by di Suvero named after Native American tribes.

The use of I-beams in the abstract piece illustrates di Suvero’s penchant for industrial materials in his work, while the color and central knot are said to be a nod to China, where di Suvero was born to Italian parents.

Di Suvero has previously likened his work to music, emphasizing that a piece like Iroquois can mean whatever a person feels at the moment, though requiring some form of interaction.

“I think that in order to experience the piece, and I’m very much a believer that art is an experience, you have to walk in through the piece, you have to have it all the way around you and at that moment you can feel what that sculpture can do,” said the artist when discussing his work with the aPA.

Philadelphians and visitors can experience and walk through Iroquois as early as September, when the sculpture is slated to return.

The cost of the restoration was not immediately available, but Griffith said the paint job should last another 12 to 15 years.