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Adopt This Monument: The Rocket Thrower

rocket thrower statue by donald de lue in flushing, new york

Over a century ago, when the MAS was founded, its goal was to beautify New York City with works of art. While our concerns have broadened to include pressing issues on advocating for future land development, excellent urban design and more comprehensive zoning legislation, we returned to our founding premise in 1986 by launching the Adopt-A-Monument program to preserve the public art which means so much to New York.

Acid rain and oxides of sulfur emitted by cars and factories had caused metal loss on bronze statues and reduced marble to a sponge-like consistency; graffiti and neglect caused other damage. Aware of deep restrictions on local and federal support for park maintenance, the Society sought to engage corporations, foundations and individuals that surrounded a park site or were historically associated with a monument to underwrite its repair. Twenty statues from five boroughs were selected for the pilot program; thirty-eight have been restored.  Of the original twenty only one has not been conserved and that is the heroic bronze Rocket Thrower.

Theme piece for the 1964 World’s Fair, Donald De Lue’s Promethean figure still stands on its original site in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park long after the fair buildings have vanished. Celebrating the space age, this forty-five-foot high semi-nude male hurls a long arc-shaped object through a circle of stars into outer space. It remains symbolic of our country’s aspirations and confidence during the era of our first explorations beyond the stratosphere.

The sculptor (1897-1988) sought inspiration from the tradition of ideal sculpture. His art reflects the influence of ancient Greek and Renaissance masters. Working from a small fifteen-foot model of the Rocket Thrower, De Lue spent a year enlarging the piece in his studio. A mold for the ten-ton model was made in plaster, adding another ten tons to the titan proportions. Hoisting the plaster figure from his studio required two chain lifts and several assistants. Cast in Italy, the statue is supported from within by four bronze tubes held in place by clamps. It is a technological tour de force. De Lue utilized skilled workers to finish the piece but applied the patina himself. The rocket, cast in a more metallic silver colored bronze, was attached separately. Gold and silver leaf once brilliantly gilded the stars.

maintenance work on the rocket man statue in new york city These recent photos (July 21, 2011) show conservator/engineer Dave Woodham from Atkinson-Noland on site at Flushing Meadows- Corona Park completing his data collection on the Rocket Thrower which included: taking images with a videoscope; readings of the bronze skin’s thickness via ultrasound; and thermal imaging readings. By analyzing the data he will have an assessment of the condition of the steel armature inside the statue. If no major deterioration of the structural support system is evident, future conservation will be less complicated.

The original lustrous green patina has darkened due to environmental changes and lack of maintenance. Cracks in the bronze could be causing structural problems while cracks in the granite base might require resetting. Recent photos from July 21, 2011 show conservator/engineer Dave Woodham from Atkinson-Noland on site at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park completing a structural analysis of the monument. His data collection included: taking images with a videoscope; using ultrasound to obtain readings of the bronze skin’s thickness; and measuring thermal imaging readings on the strength of the internal attachments. If the structural support is sound, conservation will be less complicated and require cleaning, repair of cracks, repatination, application of a protective wax coating and regilding the stars. The cost is estimated at $200,000 of which the Society has raised $100,000 over the past years.

If you would like to make a donation to help restore this last historic work of art in the Adopt-A-Monument Program, please contact Phyllis Samitz Cohen, Director of the Adopt-A-Monument /Mural Program at 212-935-3969 or by email at pcohen@mas.org.