Conservation Now:
How to Rescue a Shipwrecked Mother and Child

Edward Augustus Brackett, Shipwrecked Mother and Child, 1848–1851, white marble
Edward Augustus Brackett (American, 1818–1908), Shipwrecked Mother and Child, 1848–1851, white marble, Gift of Edward Augustus Brackett, 1904.64.

Ongoing after December 4, 2019

Shipwrecked Mother and Child by Edward Augustus Brackett has been in WAM storage for decades, but this fall—over the course of three days—the 1½ ton sculpture was carefully moved from the basement to our Jeppson Idea Lab. Completed in 1851, this life-sized marble group depicts a nude mother cradling her young child, both with eyes closed and torsos twisted.

Thanks to generous funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, the sculpture will undergo a year-long restoration, after which it will go on permanent display. Beginning in December 2019, visitors will be able to watch Objects Conservator Paula Artal-Isbrand as she meticulously cleans and repairs the figures—and brings them back to their original splendor.

Largely self-trained, the Boston-based Brackett is mostly known for his portrait busts, particularly of abolitionist John Brown and painter Washington Allston. Shipwrecked Mother and Child was his masterpiece, begun in 1848 as a series of clay and marble mock-ups. Something of an eccentric, Brackett depleted his life savings to purchase an enormous block of Vermont marble for the final version. The result was praised by medical doctors for its anatomical accuracy and raised a little controversy from his choice to depict his subject nude.

Following its first exhibition in New York, the sculpture was displayed in the Boston Atheneum from 1854 until the early 1900s, then returned to the artist. In 1904, Brackett (who had retired from art to serve as the head of the Massachusetts Fish and Game Commission) gave the marble group to WAM, where it was displayed for some years before being put into storage. Now, after almost 80 years, Shipwrecked Mother and Child will once again grace the Museum's galleries.

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