Symbol of Liverpool's glory reborn in warehouse: Pristine replica being made of eroded statue for roof of art gallery. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
THE GRAND female figure which represents the city of Liverpool is being patiently restored to its original splendour with the help of white plasticine.

After 116 years on top of the city's art gallery the figure is badly eroded. About 2mm of stone have been lost from most of the surface and large chunks several centimetres in size have fallen off.

The statue, carved from Carrara marble in 1876 by John Warrington Wood, has been taken to a warehouse where it is being remodelled with plasticine and, where chunks are missing, Polyfilla. A replica will then be carved.

John Larson, head of sculpture conservation for National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, said: 'The weathering is uneven, depending on the way particular parts were exposed. So we recreate the original line with plasticine by following it through from one high point to the next, and by making use of repeating patterns.

'We have left half of the face untouched so that we can see the effect of our restoration and assess it. It can now be seen that the face is elongated to allow for the distortion that occurs when the statue is seen from below.'

The other half of the face will be completed later. The fingers have been completely worn away and the detail in the eyes and the toes has all gone. The general form of the drapery is still clear but it has lost definition.

'We are now asking precise questions about Warrington Wood's style,' Mr Larson said. 'We have found that he had a very hard edge in his treatment of drapery. But we still have to find out what his treatment of toe- nails was, for example. And how he carved hair, which is treated very differently by sculptors.'

Mr Larson and his three assistants are going to study a collection of Warrington Wood's work at Gawsworth Hall near Macclesfield in Cheshire so that they can get the details right.

When the original form has been restored it will be photographed and measured using a three-dimensional laser method. Then the replica will be carved by three sculptors from a single block of marble, which is being brought from China. The same marble was used to carve the statuary in the Forbidden City.

In 1947 the statue was given a replacement, art deco, trident. The replica will be equipped with a classical-style trident then, accompanied by its Liver bird, the figure will be returned to the top of the Walker Art Gallery.

The original statue will be stripped of the plasticine overlay and be given a place of rest in the new Conservation Centre, which is being built in the former Midland Railway goods offices in Victoria Street.

'The figure was first erected in 1877 when the city was at its peak of wealth and power. It represents the glory of the city and so restoring it has a symbolic value,' Mr Larson said.

(Photograph omitted)