Conservator Lisa Benson of Skylight Studios gently cleans away the dirt from the marble statue of Ralph Waldo Emerson at the Concord Free Library. PHOTO BY JENNIFER LORD PALUZZI

Ralph Waldo Emerson gets a glow-up at Concord library

By Jennifer Lord Paluzzi
March 9, 2023

Ralph Waldo Emerson hasn’t had a bath in more than a century.

The marble statue of the seated “Sage of Concord” at the Concord Free Library has been dusted over the decades, but conservator Lisa Benson of Skylight Studios was working carefully with a brush, soft cloth, and diluted non-corrosive soap to wipe away layers of grime.

“This is the 150th anniversary of the library,” Benson said, moving her ring light to the side to highlight the statue’s left arm. “This is the time to make him look good.”

The statue was crafted by Concord native Daniel Chester French, who gained early recognition for his Concord Minute Man, featured on the town seal. French’s career went well beyond Concord, crafting works like the John Harvard statue, whose foot has been shined for decades by the palms of Harvard students who rub it for luck; the statue of “The Republic,” the centerpiece of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; and the 19-foot tall seated figure of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.

Emerson’s ring finger had been repaired at some point during his century at the Concord Free Library. PHOTO BY JENNIFER LORD PALUZZI

During her cleaning of Emerson, Benson discovered a secret — at some point during the statue’s time at the library, the right hand ring finger broke off, with the scar hidden by decades of dirt.

Benson expects to return for several weekends of cleaning and answering questions from library patrons as she works. Other library works, including the busts of famous Concord writers, were light enough to take the trip to Skylight Studios on their own.