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Save Outdoor Sculpture!

Save Outdoor Sculpture! was founded in 1989 as a community-based effort to identify, document, and conserve American outdoor sculptures.  Many museums and other cultural institutions, large and small, were involved with the project, which was jointly-sponsored by Heritage Preservation and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with funding from Target Stores, the National Endowment for the Arts, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Getty Grant Program, the Henry Luce Foundation, and others. Sadly, when Heritage Preservation disbanded in 2015, Save Outdoor Sculpture came to an end. 


The History of SOS!

Susan Nichols

"Between 1989 and 2015, Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) conducted a comprehensive survey of America’s outdoor sculpture, jointly sponsored by Heritage Preservation, Inc. and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Together with 106 cooperating regional partners and nearly 7,000 vital and dedicated volunteers, 32,000 outdoor sculptures across America were identified and recorded. Recruited, trained and launched, volunteers combed their locales to document outdoor sculpture, public or private, new or old—the first-ever effort to inventory our national collection and to describe the condition of the artworks. Volunteers measured, photographed and researched background on the outdoor artworks in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. SOS! also helped educate local communities regarding the condition of their sculptural heritage pieces – whether they were safe or endangered due to weather and acid rain in general or lack of maintenance in particular. Several communities were already familiar with the need for ongoing maintenance; others were introduced to that “must do” piece of responsible ownership of outdoor sculpture..."

Letting Go

A History of Save Outdoor Sculpture! as a National Crowdsourcing Effort to Document and Preserve Outdoor Sculpture

Juliee Decker, PhD

In 1989, before wide-spread use of the internet and the existence of social media, Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) was launched as a form of crowd-sourcing that engaged thousands of individuals contributed to an effort to document outdoor sculpture and, in turn, to re-establish a commitment to the nation’s cultural heritage. Nationally and state-wide appeals were made inviting participation in this initiative, all of which was funneled through state and regional reporting to the Smithsonian. With the goals “to inventory all publicly accessible outdoor sculpture in the United States and to raise public awareness about the need to provide professional treatment and routine maintenance of artworks in their communities,” SOS! offered an important first step in the long-range task of raising an owner’s “consciousness about the intrinsic value of outdoor sculpture and the need for responsible ongoing care”... 

In September 1992, the Art Commission of the City of New York began working with the advertising agency Cadwell Davis Partners, New York to promote public awareness of the Save Outdoor Sculpture program. Rick Elkins was the Art Director designing the campaign. He worked with Copywriter Bob Mitchell.

 In a September 13, 2021 telephone call with Rebecca Rushfield, Rick spoke about that project. The following is a summary of the call:

My memory is that we spoke to Frankie [Cadwell] and Herman [Davis] who had spoken to the people representing Save Outdoor Sculpture. We talked about wanting to promote awareness of sculpture. And we felt that just showing a sculpture would not be a very compelling visual for a lot of people. We wanted to find something more interesting that would get more attention.

It was a basic idea for newspaper ads and posters. And it was a little bit of a silly idea.  You would see the tops of various sculptures and there would be a pigeon sitting there. You would have a thought bubble from the pigeon and the pigeon is thinking “Why am I the only one noticing this great work of art which is incredible?” The pigeon would go through all the attributes of the work to try to make people think about the fact as they went through their lives from day to day, they’re passing great works of art and not even looking up. It’s the pigeon who’s seeing it. We were trying to find a way to really say, “Hey look. Look at all this amazing art around you.”

You want to be very single minded in advertising. The primary mission here was to create an awareness of sculpture and through that an awareness of the organization Save Outdoor Sculpture.

Part of SOS involved an initiative to introduce conservation and heritage to kids through an interactive website. SOS 4 Kids! also partnered with the Girl Scouts of America to create a Save Outdoor Sculpture patch. Girl scouts from a troop in Louisiana earned their badge in a project detailed on the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training blog, here.

Click here to see an archived version of the original website!

Educational Materials

Read more in Diane L. Mossholder essay on Save Outdoor Sculpture

"Public awareness was integral to the survey. Coordinating organizations committed to at least one public awareness activity, with the goal of raising funds to care for sculptures. Some survey groups wore T-shirts and carried tote bags with the SOS! logo while they worked, inspiring questions from passersby."

Diane L. Mossholder

Susan Nichols commissioned a quilt to be made from the iconic t-shirts designed specifically for S.O.S. project volunteers to commemorate the program.

"I had been working for several years as a historic preservation consultant and found out about the project I believe through the State Historic Preservation Office. I had worked for them earlier in my career and they were aware that no one had yet taken on the project in New Jersey-- that New Jersey was one of the states that didn’t have a sponsor. Someone else suggested the Montclair Art Museum to me. And so I worked to make the marriage, putting SOS! together with the Montclair Art Museum. The museum ended up sponsoring the program, and I became the Project Manager. So technically I was working for the Montclair Art Museum. I was used to working as a consultant at that point and this was really my biggest consulting job. I worked on it a couple of days a week. I felt like it was a really incredible opportunity—especially since our scope encompassed the entire state. Other states were broken up in various ways depending on how it worked best for them, but I had the responsibility for the whole state..."



Meredith Arms Bzdak on SOS! [Excerpted from a conversation with Rebecca Rushfield on October 4, 2021]



"I loved the Save Outdoor Sculpture! program because it was so much fun and so accessible to a layperson like me. One of my first projects for it was to finish the web site. The Girl Scout badge section of it had some missing pieces. One of the activities they could do was write poetry about a sculpture, and there were supposed to be examples of all the different kinds of poems they could do. So I had to write those. I don’t remember any of them (doubtless they weren’t that memorable!) but I had so much fun and learned a lot about poetry!

I still remember some of my favorite sculpture stories. The community coming together to restore the King Kamehameha sculpture on the big island of Hawaii stuck in my head so much that when I visited there in 2009, I forced my vacation buddy to drive quite far out of the planned itinerary to find it so I could take a picture. I hope someday to see its companion in Honolulu. I also remember that there were a lot of Statue of Liberty replicas around the country, though I’ve never seen one. Before SOS!, I had no idea there was so much public sculpture. Now when I see it, I have a new appreciation for it."

Diane Mossholder

"After three years, I went on to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. I got my degree in historic preservation and I still work in the preservation field. What’s funny is that I still go places today for work and personal travel and I see sculptures that I remember: “Oh I think we gave an award for this.” I had a project at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn and I met a historian there. I said, “You know, my first job out of college was with Save Outdoor Sculpture.” And he said, “Oh, I remember SOS!. You guys helped us do this and that and that.” It’s so rewarding when I come across those sculptures and people. I was with SOS! for a very short time in the grand scheme of things, but it was a really rewarding job.

I do remember it was a big deal the day that Hilary Clinton as part of the Save America’s Treasures tour gave a talk at a memorial in Baltimore that SOS! had funded with a Conservation Treatment Award and I remember all the staff got to go. It was such an exciting day."

Daria Gasparini

Additional Resources

Save Outdoor Sculptures New Jersey Letterhead
Click to Expand!

Save Outdoor Sculpture

in Indiana

The Indiana State Historical Bureau

Workshop Report
The Conservation of Sculpture and Monuments. Through a Conservator's Eye, August 21-23, 1997

Brookgreen Gardens Murrells Inlet, South Carolina,  NCPTT NOTES November 1997 No.21

Save Outdoor Sculpture!
A Community-Based Conservation Program

Diane L. Mossholder, Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter 22.1, Spring 2007

Preserving Memory 

Traveling Exhibit about SOS!

Videocassettes in the Getty Conservation Institute Library


Maintain Outdoor Sculpture Today for Tomorrow / [Save Outdoor Sculpture!]. [Washington, DC : N.I.C., 1996]. 1 videocassette (37:21 min.).

Legacy at risk strategies to save outdoor sculpture / [Save Outdoor Sculpture!]. [Washington, DC : N.I.C., 1993]. 1 videocassette (29:40 min.).

Save Outdoor Sculpture

Update! Newsletter 11/2 Fall 2000 

Telling the Tales Revealing the Resources 

Susan Nichols and Christine Hennessey

Highlights from the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog, including outdoor sculptures by state

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