ICA Collaborates to Restore Iconic Free Stamp

Claes Oldenburg with the iconic “Free Stamp, created with Coosje van Bruggen. Photo credit John T. Seyfried, courtesy of ICA Art Conservation

Last fall, ICA was retained by the City of Cleveland and The Sculpture Center to restore Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen’s monumental sculpture, the Free Stamp, to like-new condition. After years of weathering, deterioration and vandalism endured by this iconic artistic treasure, the City of Cleveland recognized the need to preserve the landmark for future generations. Project planning took place throughout the long Cleveland winter, and in May when it was finally warm enough to work outside, treatment of the Free Stamp began and continued through the summer.

Earlier this year, ICA Executive Director Albert Albano, ICA board member Aaron Marcovy and Case Western Reserve University Art History Professor Emeritus Edward Olszewski, visited Claes Oldenburg at his New York studio to discuss the conservation project, and to interview the artist about the Free Stamp. Mr. Marcovy digitally recorded hours of the discourse, and together the team plans to produce a short documentary film about Oldenburg and the Free Stamp. Details on this exciting aspect of the project will be forthcoming.


Commissioned in 1982 by the Standard Oil Company of Ohio, the Free Stamp was created by Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje Van Brueggen, and installed in its current location of Willard Park near Cleveland’s City Hall in 1991. At the onset of the project ICA consulted with Oldenburg, who contributed to aesthetic decisions made regarding specifics of the treatment, ensuring that the results would remain faithful to his original vision. On May 19th, the ICA welcomed Oldenburg to downtown Cleveland as he visited his monumental sculpture Free Stamp for the first time in many years. Albano, and ICA Objects Conservator, Mark Erdmann, led Oldenburg on a tour of the site, explaining some of the challenges the team encountered in working on the Free Stamp, and the solutions devised to return the sculpture to its original color and condition.

The Free Stamp conservation project, initiated by The Sculpture Center, is a unique collaboration between the City of Cleveland and the technical experts at ICA and Thomarios, an Akron-based firm with expertise in metal coatings. All interior and exterior surfaces are being repainted using high-performance coatings from Sherwin Williams, matched to the unique colors. The Free Stamp is not the first of Oldenburg’s works to be treated by ICA. The organization also worked on the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s Giant Three-Way Plug in Oberlin, Ohio, and the Akron Art Museum’s Inverted Q.


Photo credit: John T. Seyfried, copyright ICA – Art Conservation, 2014.

ICA Art Conservation

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