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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ensuring History Doesn't Get Wiped Out

MTA VIOLe-M monument specialist giving a facelift to the statue of revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, which was erected in 1958 on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad.
Yevgeny Trankovsky doesn't run your average medical practice. For starters, most of his clients are princes, generals and famous writers. Instead of inviting them over to his office, Trankovsky visits them where they spend most of their time: on street corners and public squares. Not that there's any need for him to check their pulse. All of his patients have been dead for years.

Trankovsky fixes Moscow's monuments. Last week found him at work on one of his more prominent clients, the statue of revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad.

After about a month of treatment, Trankovsky was putting on the final touches. Half a dozen men from his company, VIOLe-M, and another restoration firm, REKOS, had roped the monument off and were crouched on the pavement below in plastic face shields, pouring glistening streams of molten lead into the cracks. VIOLe-M's director, Anatoly Pokrovsky, was evening out the filling with a hammer.

"Anatoly Vladimirovich and I studied together in the same institute," Trankovsky said proudly. "We were in the same class and have worked together ever since." After graduating from the Moscow State Institute of Steel and Alloys in 1970, Trankovsky worked in a number of different firms, but found it difficult to stay employed once perestroika swung into gear.

Igor Tabakov / MT

The 1954 statue of Yury Dolgoruky on Tverskaya Ulitsa opposite the Mayor's Office got a thorough grooming earlier this summer.

In 1990, Pokrovsky, Trankovsky and several other engineers formed a collective and founded VIOLe-M on the initiative of Moscow's central committee for monument preservation. "We have people from all sorts of backgrounds," Trankovsky said. "We have trained chemists. We have graduates from metallurgical institutes who work with bronze. We have people who work with stone."

More than 200 of the city's monuments are under governmental protection, Trankovsky said, and it is up to VIOLe-M to keep them in one piece.

Trankovsky makes a point of visiting his charges two times a year, in the spring and in the fall, to check up on their condition and make temporary repairs. Recent projects include the 1818 monument next to St. Basil's Cathedral of Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who together led a successful revolt against Polish invaders in 1612, and the 1954 statue of Moscow's founder, Yury Dolgoruky, on Tverskaya Ulitsa.

As time goes by, nature takes its toll and defects crop up. The busy streets weaken the foundations. Rain and dirt clog up the pores in the metal. Bronze tends to oxidize, and eventually the statue is thick with tarnish.

And so, every five or 10 years, it is time for a hefty face-lift. But in order to restore the monument to its original state, engineers must first determine how it actually used to look.

Sometimes, this can turn into a historical investigation on its own. "It all depends on how much documentation exists on its original state," said Trankovksy, gesturing at the Mayakovsky statue.

Igor Tabakov / MT

The 1818 monument of Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky looks out on Red Square from its spot near St. Basil's Cathedral.

"This monument was done in 1958. There's sufficient documentation from 1958 as to how it looked, so we do our restoration accordingly."

This time around, VIOLe-M concentrated on stripping off most of the discolored tarnish without damaging the base level of natural tarnish that compliments the statue. While the pedestal is carved of granite, Mayakovsky's body is set in bronze -- and working with bronze is one of VIOLe-M's specialties.

If left unattended, Trankovsky said, the bronze itself would slowly turn from its original brown to a murkier shade of black. After some more time, it would take on a greenish hue, then a deeper malachite sheen, and finally a healthy olive green.

While bronze would never reach the minty shade of the Statue of Liberty -- whose copper, Trankovsky took care to point out, was imported from the Urals -- catching tarnish early keeps the statue in better shape.

Once they have mapped out the distribution of tarnish, the restorers set about applying chemical solutions to remove it.

Over the past month, VIOLe-M and REKOS have stripped the Mayakovsky statue down from a blackish-green shade to something closer to its original brown. But with chemical reactions dependent on weather and levels of radiation, work often goes slowly.

Igor Tabakov / MT

The statue of Minin and Pozharsky, who led a successful revolt against Polish invaders in 1612, also was restored this summer.

If conditions stay good, VIOLe-M plans to move on to the statue of Alexander Pushkin at Pushkinskaya Ploshchad in the coming two weeks.

Trankovsky's job is to make sure that history, once set in stone, does not get rubbed out. And he takes that assignment very seriously. He thinks that history is as much about how events are recorded as it is about the events themselves.

"I believe that history is a reflection of facts," he said. Even statues put up by corrupt governments are part of history, he explained, and should not be taken down.

Trankovsky had been working for VIOLe-M for over a year when the Soviet government collapsed and many of the monuments that the regime had revered were unceremoniously ripped out. "It made us very uncomfortable," he recalled.

While several of the monuments, including the 20-meter statue of secret police founder "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky that towered over Lubyanskaya Ploshchad until it was torn down in 1991, are once again receiving visitors at a spiffed up dumping ground next to the Central House of Artists, Trankovsky has not been asked to work on them. But he imagines that, some day, he might.

"A government that knows nothing about its history has no future," he said. "That's why we have to know our history and preserve it. As far as Dzerzhinsky's monument is concerned, I believe that it might find a place on the same spot again some day. Maybe."