Soldiers Memorial Military History Museum is located in the heart of downtown St. Louis and honors all military veterans and active service members. The memorial was originally dedicated in 1938. In 2017, the city of Saint Louis completed a thirty-million-dollar effort to restore the memorial’s many notable art deco era architectural features, improve the museum’s exhibition spaces, and add landscaping the surrounding public spaces. Emil Frei and Associates was asked to restore the expansive mosaic that adorns memorial’s loggia ceiling.
The mosaic inside Soldier’s Memorial’s loggia is one of the building’s most striking architectural features. A large gold star at the center of the mosaic is dedicated to the mothers of St. Louisans who died in the war. The vibrant red and gold tesserae are set off against the matte gray stone walls. The mosaic’s shiny surface catches one’s attention from the street level. The mosaic is composed of approximately 333,000 individual pieces of glass tesserae and gold smalti. Given its age and the fact that it is exposed to the freeze thaw cycle, the mosaic was in relatively good condition. However, it did exhibit signs of deterioration such as missing pieces.
The major challenge of this mosaic restoration was to identify and correct the underlying cause of deterioration. Upon inspection, we determined that the deterioration was caused by cracks that had developed in the underlying mortar bed. Once a crack develops, tesserae can loosen, become detached, and fall out. An additional challenge was to match the color, material, and setting conditions of the tesserae and grout.
Restoration first and foremost included locating loose tesserae and uncovering mortar bed cracks. All loose tesserae were removed, and the crack was cleaned out and repaired with a premium thin set. Once the thin-set cured, the tesserae were set back into place and any missing pieces were replaced with matching tesserae. All pieces were set into the repaired mortar bed so that they are in plane with the surface of the surrounding tesserae. Once fully cured, the repaired area was grouted. Lastly, the entire mosaic was washed. In total, 626 individual tesserae were repaired.
Missouri Historical Society, Saint Louis, MO
Architect: Mackey Mitchell Architects