In every town of any size in this country, there is at least one statue that the citizens love more than they realize they do. Accustomed to it as part of the town's landscape, they race past it on their way somewhere else — but they would notice in an instant if it suddenly disappeared. In Cheshire, Massachusetts, the local folks would miss their giant cheese press, a replica of one sent to the White House in 1802; just as North Dakotans would miss their 8-foot-high stone monument in the shape of a broken tent pole, erected in 1897 after a pair of circus workers were killed by lightning. Silent witnesses of our history, these old monuments are often beautiful works of art as well. Yet, many of them have suffered decades of neglect, not because people don't care, but rather because maintenance wasn't always planned for when they were put up. And their numbers keep expanding as newer sculptures join their ranks, like Armando Alvarez's 310-foot-long steel tableau in Gallup, New Mexico, entitled We the People.
Now, Save Outdoor Sculpture! (a program with an acronym that actually means something for a change) has enlisted volunteers in all 50 states to fan out and document every outdoor sculpture — old and new — including its condition. Started in the late 1980s under the joint sponsorship of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, the effort so far has documented 50,000 works, leading to the conservation and repair of many of them.