By LOHR McKINSTRY
CROWN POINT — The Auguste Rodin bust “La France” was painstakingly remounted in its niche at the Champlain Memorial Lighthouse Thursday.
The gift of the French nation to the people of New York state and Vermont was conserved as part of a $2 million restoration project at the lighthouse and adjacent pier.
Dr. Frances Chevalier, a Norwich University professor of French studies, watched as the bust was bolted back in place.
“I wanted to bring this bust to the attention of the local people,” she said. “It’s a glorious opportunity to talk about Franco-American relations. It’s more than just a work of art.”
The bas-relief bust depicting Rodin's model and muse, Camille Claudel, was donated by the French government when the memorial to French explorer Samuel de Champlain was dedicated in May 1912.
The sculpture was unbolted from the 72-foot-tall granite lighthouse in 2008, when workers began cleaning and repairing the memorial. It was restored at the Peebles Island facility of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Although the bust has never been appraised, similar works by Rodin have sold for millions of dollars.
Charles Vandrei, historic preservation officer for the State Department of Environmental Conservation, has been overseeing the restoration project.
He said the bust was coated with grime and suffered from exposure to the elements.
“I looked at it and knew it had to be removed and conserved. Now it’s back. This is a historic occasion.”
The bust will be protected from further wear by using a heat-applied wax.
HELP FROM FRANCE
Three years ago, Chevalier brought the bust to the attention of Francois Gauthier, France’s consul-general in Boston. Gauthier then helped raise some of the cost of conserving the Rodin plaque.
Crown Point was also home to a French settlement and fort from 1731 to 1759, and Gauthier has since been to Crown Point to observe an archeological dig at the ruins of the settlement.
Vandrei said Gauthier also came to DEC headquarters in Albany, where a special viewing of the Rodin bust was set up for him while it was being restored.
“There was a great deal of excitement when the bust was taken out of its box,” Vandrei said.
On Thursday morning, Vandrei pulled up at the lighthouse in his DEC vehicle with the bust in a custom crate in the back. It was put back in place by conservator Jonathan Taggart after crews installed security systems to protect it.
The bolts that affix the plaque were set in commercial epoxy so they can’t be removed, and an alarm relay and surveillance camera will be connected to DEC Region 5 dispatch in Ray Brook for 24-hour monitoring.
“There was no security before,” Vandrei said. “We knew that had to change if it was going to be replaced at the memorial.”
DEC had also discussed keeping the bust at the state museum or another secure location, but Vandrei said it was finally decided that since it was a gift for the people of the Champlain Valley, it should be returned to Crown Point.
“This bust has historical significance and uniqueness,” Chevalier said. “Claudel’s face is haunting. To have her looking out over the lake like this is fantastic.”
The lighthouse is located in one corner of the DEC’s Crown Point Reservation Campground.
“This is probably the only campground in the United States with its own Rodin,” Vandrei said.
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