After 23 years of anchoring the corner of East Ninth Street and Lakeside Avenue in Willard Park, the Free Stamp is being restored

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CLEVELAND -- It appeared on the downtown Cleveland landscape in late 1991 and has been a highly visible landmark ever since.

After 23 years of anchoring the corner of East Ninth Street and Lakeside Avenue in Willard Park, the Free Stamp is being restored. It's hard to miss, seeing as it is 28 feet 10 inches high and 26 feet by 49 feet.

For those who haven't seen it, it shows a rubber stamp with the word "FREE" in its stamping area.

ICA - Art Conservation has been hired by the City of Cleveland and The Sculpture Center to restore Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen's monumental sculpture, following years of weathering and deterioration.

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Today marks the first day the project gets underway. Thomarios, an Akron-based firm with expertise in restoration and metal coatings, will provide technical support for the treatment and restoration.

Anyone who has stood at that corner knows that the winds blowing off Lake Erie in the winter can literally knock you off your feet. Those winds -- and the harsh winters -- have taken its toll on the sculpture.

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So where did this sculpture come from?

Dubbed the "world's largest rubber stamp," did you know that it spent years in storage before being placed on display?

The sculpture was commissioned by the Standard Oil of Ohio -- known as Sohio -- in 1985 to be used as a display at its soon-to-be-constructed headquarters building on Public Square, which eventually became the BP Tower.

The piece was originally designed to stand upright, with the lettering of the stamp hidden from view on its "stamp pad". According to one of the executives working with Oldenburg, the message on the stamp was intended as a reference to the Civil War-era Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, located across the street.

Sohio had previously been acquired by BP, and BP executive Robert Horton took over the management of Sohio before the sculpture was installed. He believed that the stamp was "inappropriate" for the location, and that Oldenburg actually intended to mock BP about Sohio's loss of corporate freedom and the lack of freedom in office work.

According to records, BP gave the artists permission to move the sculpture to another part of the city, but they refused. As a result, the stamp was placed in storage in a facility in Whiting, Indiana.

Over the next several years, BP, the artists, and the city consulted to find a new site for the sculpture. Several sites were proposed, including theCleveland Museum of Art. The artists, who wanted the sculpture to remain near Public Square, finally chose Willard Park.

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The Free Stamp is not the first of Oldenburg's works to be treated by ICA.

ICA has worked on the giant Three-Way Plug of the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio, and the Inverted Q at the Akron Art Museum. Thomarios, an Akron-based firm with expertise in restoration and metal coatings, will provide technical support for the treatment and restoration.

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