Phil-ing the void: Refurbished Niemisto statue back in pocket park
MARQUETTE — The Phil Niemisto statue is back where it belongs: in the Phil Niemisto Pocket Park along Washington Street.
The statue of the late Niemisto, a beloved figure in the downtown area through his famed window-washing skills and maintenance of the pocket park, was placed at the spot in 2017. Niemisto died in 2018 at age 88.
Earl Senchuk, the Marquette-area artist who created the sculpture of Niemisto and had been refurbishing it, said Jay Brady, maintenance coordinator for the Marquette Downtown Development Authority, and his crew came to his house on Wednesday morning to transport the “Phil statue” back to his park.
“With so much help we were able to weigh ‘Phil’ for the first time. He weighs 135 pounds,” Senchuk said in an email.
Some of the work in the refurbishing was for personal reasons, Senchuk said.
“Phil’s head was cast at 4 o’clock on the morning of the day of the dedication, which left no time for finishing of details,” he said. “At home over winter, I was able to take the time to smooth out the many wrinkles that make up Phil’s characteristic smile among other improvements.”
The rest of the repair work, he said, was for different reasons due to natural weathering.
Senchuk said mildew was starting to form on the shaded side of the statue’s face. So, he scrubbed the statue and immersed the head in a strong solution of bleach for about five hours. He then put the head in the oven at 170 degrees for five hours to ensure absolute dryness, and bagged the head until cool enough to seal coat with a clear matte acrylic finish to ensure ultraviolet protection and waterproofing.
“Although I’m sure ‘Phil’ doesn’t mind, ladies sometimes apply lipstick kisses that can’t be cleaned easily from a semi-porous casting material like Permastone,” Senchuk said. “The seal coat of acrylic will now help with that.”
Over the winters since the dedication on Oct.19, 2017, small fissures developed in several areas on the statue’s face, Senchuk said. He used a Dremel drill with a cutoff wheel to deepen and widen the fissures, which could be then chipped away at the edges to prepare for a filling of fresh Permastone.
“There was no way to cast Phil’s left hand in position on the back of the seat due to physical and logistical limitations, so my hand was used,” Senchuk said. “The thumb broke off, so I recast my own hand in such a manner that the pressure point would rest under the muscular thumb pad of the left palm at the same as the thumb, and with the wrist fitted at the proper angle into the recess of Phil’s cuff.”
Senchuk acknowledged he accidentally dropped the statue’s cap, which broke into eight pieces upon hitting the concrete floor. However, he said it’s “back to new” again.
The real wooden buttons on Phil’s sweaters were replaced with direct copies made of sculptural epoxy, the same as the rest of the statue’s clothing, said Senchuk, who noted that most of the clothing got a new paint job.
“Phil is better looking than ever,” Senchuk said.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is email@example.com