Arts & Culture » Culture

Tarred and Feathered

Michael Kobold restores the State Capitol Eagle to glory

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Boiseans who look up may have noticed that for several months scaffolding has topped the Idaho State Capitol. For weeks, a tent bought at REI has hid the proud eagle at the summit. For years, the eagle had been kept fresh with a variety of paint colors to mimic precious metal and shine in the sun. When the restoration project on the capitol building began, Michael Kobold, an art restoration specialist of Raggleday Studios, was brought in to clean and repaint the eagle. But when he suggested a more permanent option, gilding, the architects in charge of the restoration--who he says now claim the gilding idea as theirs--went for it. Kobold also says he discovered that the eagle was copper, not bronze, as the project architects had thought. At over 200 pounds, soldered together in eight different sections, standing 5-feet, 7-inches tall with a 6-foot wingspan, it would take weeks to apply the thin sheets of gold to the surface.

Every day for the past several months, Kobold has climbed the 299 steps to the top of the dome, then a ladder on the outside of the scaffolding to the very top. He said he has never had a problem with heights. Putting himself through school at a refinery, he was the only one willing to climb the towers to work on them and earned the moniker "The Monkey."

Kobold holds a BFA from Missoula and attended the Chicago Art Institute, where he learned art restoration. But he learned the technique of gilding from a job he did in Spokane.

After stripping all seven layers of paint from the statue, a process Kobold says "took forever," he began to apply the gold leaf. Appliing three-and-three-quarter inch sheets of gold leaf using a four-inch-wide brush and then applying an adhesive that took approximately 10 hours to set up. Approximately 1,500 sheets of gold leaf were applied, an extremely labor-intensive process, but one Kobold says will not have to be redone for 80 to 100 years.

"I'll be long dead when that stuff fades out," Kobold said. People on the street should notice, he said, an eagle of gold brighter than before. We asked if he, like other craftsmen, put some identifying mark of his handicraft on or near the eagle. He answered with a smile.