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Eye On The Arts: Rodin Museum

By Pat Ciarrocchi

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- If you have an EYE ON THE ARTS for this summer, Philadelphia's Rodin Museum and Gardens is an oasis to discover along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The gardens are blooming after a complete replanting in 2011, and for the first time in decades, masterpiece sculptures are back outside - thanks to the work of expert conservators, like Kate Cuffari.

"It is humbling," said Cuffari. "It's definitely humbling, and it's a process that no one approaches lightly."

Cuffari found art conservation work a perfect professional fit because of its interdisciplinary mix of art history, chemistry, fine art, forensics and science. She also knows that the 19th century sculptor Auguste Rodin is trusting her.

The project she is finishing is The Burghers of Calais, a large, multi-figured Rodin original that has gone through a painstaking restoration so it once again can see the light of day.

"The sculpture was outdoors in the first 40 years in the life of the Rodin Museum" explained Cuffari.

But in the 1960s, it was pulled indoors. The color and marks that Rodin intended, even for his most iconic outdoor sculptures like The Thinker, had disappeared.

"They had turned very bright pale green with corrosion," said Cuffari. "There were very dark black spots from exposure to pollutants, which created patterns on the surface that prevented your perception of the sculptural forms."

Master works need conservation. Cuffari and her colleague, Raina Chao have removed corrosion, crusty pollution, restored color and then added a protective coating to the bronze, so weather won't damage it again.

Museum curator Jenny Thompson thinks Rodin would enjoy seeing his pieces outside.

"He famously said, 'For me, sculpture is an outdoor art.'"

Outside of Paris, Philadelphia has the largest collection of works by Rodin.

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