The colors of the Martin Luther King Jr. monument look a little different today, having been restored to what they were when the sculpture was installed at City Plaza in 1997.
The recently red-and-light blue sculpture has returned to its original orange-and-darker blue colors during work on the monument, which was rededicated during a ceremony Tuesday.
“For the past decade or so, the paint on this sculpture has appeared red and cerulean blue, so these colors might come as a shock to some of you who have become accustomed to seeing a red and blue sculpture,” said Susie Anders, whose art conservation company led the work to restore the memorial.
Discussions to restore the memorial, which suffered damage over the years from weather and vandalism, have been ongoing since 2017 and picked up speed over the past year. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the city-parish government, the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and the Downtown Development District raised over $80,000 for the project, BRAF Chair Bill Balhoff said.
The ceremony came at the end of months of work on the part of Anders’ team, who were delayed at times by weather because the work was done on site. The inside of the structure was also restored, fixing wear from decades exposed to the Louisiana elements, Anders said.
The 21-foot-high art piece created by Arthur Silverman depicts three crosses standing on top of one another, rising from the confines of a rectangle.
“Essentially they’re ascending into freedom from the artist’s perspective and vision,” Anders said.
Due to Silverman’s death in 2018, Anders’ team, along with the Arts Council and East Baton Rouge Parish Library, spent months researching the sculpture ahead of the restoration, she said.
The monument was repainted a handful of times over the years since its installation to cover wear and tear and once to hide graffiti, Anders said, which added to the difficulty of determining its original color. This created several layers of dried paint that had to be carved through so the restoration team could access the original paint.
“These repainting campaigns altered the work’s original color, and the artist’s true vision for this sculpture was concealed by several layers of paint,” Anders said. “Part of the restoration process involved excavation of the original colors that laid buried under the many paint layers applied over the years.”
Weather-resistant paint and "tough industrial products" were then used to treat the monument, ensuring it will maintain its shine for years. Anders also said she wrote instructions for maintaining the monument.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome compared Anders’ work to the work being done to confront Baton Rouge’s history surrounding race.
“Ms. Anders had to remove layers upon layers of paint that had been applied over the past 24 years. And just like this monument, East Baton Rouge Parish is undertaking the tough but necessary process of uncovering layers upon layers of our community’s history and enhancing our foundation to be a stronger Baton Rouge.”
Along with the memorial for him, King himself has some connections to Baton Rouge.
The late civil rights icon traveled to Baton Rouge in 1956 to meet with pastors, Southern University faculty and local civil rights organizers to learn about the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, according to BRAF.
Soon after, King and Rosa Parks led the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott.