the second time,
Karkadoulias adds her touch to
Madisons Broadway Fountain
MADISON, Ind. (October 2004) Mercene Karkadoulias
is on a mission, and time is running out.
October 2004 Issue
After spending a lifetime of perfecting her art and forging
a reputation nationwide in restoration circles, she wants to save as
many historic monuments, sculptures, fountains and plaques as possible
for as long as she is able to work. Although she wont reveal her
age for business purposes, she admits she is well beyond what most people
would consider as retirement age. But her work is far from finished.
There are too many monuments out there that need her special touch.
I dont do this for the money, I do it because I love it,
said Karkadoulias, who has restored monuments for many of the nations
state capitols and battlefields, including those at Gettsyburg.
She and her staff work year-round on projects all around the country,
sometimes simultaneously. She has spent much of the past summer working
on Madisons 118-year-old Broadway Fountain, a city landmark that
her company, Karkadoulias Bronze Art Inc., based in Cincinnati, re-cast
in bronze nearly 25 years ago at its foundry. Now during its first cleaning
and maintenance project since it was re-dedicated in 1980, Karkadoulias,
her family members and employees have spent the past five months meticulously
scraping calcium and other deposits off the fountain, down to the original
archaic green patina that was applied when it was cast. The patina serves
as a protective coating after the casting.
by Don Ward
Karkadoulias believes the patina and the original polish
on the granite should never be removed. They should be preserved,
no matter how difficult or time consuming it is, because if you remove
them, its like removing the skin of a human being, and its
shortening the life, she said.
Repairs and upgrades to the plumbing beneath the fountain also were
required to ensure that it will function properly for many years to
come. The job required a new pump and filter, said city parks director
Other than routine cleaning around the fountain by our staff,
no major maintenance had been done to it for the last 25 years,
Munier said. No one had the knowledge in what to do. But she is
going to give us some guidelines in what to do on an annual basis so
that when we close it down in the fall, we can help maintain it better
in the future.
In all the restoration project will cost nearly $80,000, a staggering
sum to the city staff. But several changes in the plan were made to
reduce the cost, Munier said. City officials said they would try to
find a way to soften the water that is causing dense lime buildup inside
the 3-inch water lines, thus avoid having to replace them. Karkadoulias
had originally proposed to disassemble the fountain and haul it to her
Cincinnati foundry to do the work, but she later agreed to do work on
site. Finally, Karkadoulias agreed to accept payments in installments
for the job. The city plans to pay her $25,000 this year and has budgeted
$30,000 for her next year, Munier said. The balance is to be paid in
But the overall bill wont fall entirely on the city. River Valley
Financial Bank this year contributed $10,000 toward the fountain restoration.
And Munier said he wants to launch a fund raising drive this winter
to help generate more private money to offset the citys cost.
Karkadoulias granddaughter, 15yr. Mercene Zalants of Cincinnati,
works on the Broadway Fountain.
Theres a lot of close connection to the fountain
by many people in the community, and were hoping some of them
will want to come forward and contribute money to help preserve it,
Prerhaps no one has as much love for the fountain as Karkadoulias herself.
Considered by her peers as a true artist in the craft, she tends to
fall in love with all her subjects, but the Broadway Fountain ranks
among her favorites.
Since we were the ones who re-cast this fountain 25 years ago,
we knew coming in the strengths of the structure and that we did not
have to dismantle it, she said.
Karkadoulias said her workers used a five-step process to clean the
calcium deposits from the fountain, but mostly it was done by scraping
off the deposits with small tools. It was painstaking and extremely
difficult, she said. The water is very hard here, and that
creates a lot of calcium buildup. In some places, we found calcium as
thick as one inch. We took it off one mil at a time using all our processes
without using any abrasive.
After cleaning, the workers applied the archaic green patina to the
bronze. Although the patine looks like paint but it is not, she said.
This coating helps protect the metal against the elements. The workers
also repaired, cleaned and polished the granite base.
Larry Erway, an apprentice employee, did much of the work on the fountain
under Karkadoulias supervision. Karkadoulias friend, Nachos
Fernandez, was hired to climb inside the fountain to clean because of
his small stature. She also hired several local men, including Drew
Allen, Matt Siliakus, Logan Higgins, Jamie Cox, Joe Eckler and Brian
Jones. She hired Mark Sedaca, an independent contractor and fountain
specialist, to assess and repair the plumbing.
The water was turned on in late September for a test run, and Munier
said everything worked fine. Later this fall, Karkadoulias plans to
return to Madison to apply a final protective coating on the fountain,
once the water has been turned off for the winter, which is usually
just before Halloween.
Business a family affair
In addition to employees, Karkadoulias is helped by family members and
is hoping to pass on her knowledge and expertise so they can continue
the business long after she is gone. One of her two daughters, Anitsa
Zalants, 39, and her children, George, 15, Mercene, 13, and Jamie, 6,
all helped clean the Broadway Fountain this summer. George in particular
has developed a fascination with the work, she said, and shows great
potential for it.
Anitsa said her mother is 100 percent dedicated to it. She knows
what shes looking for when she inspects these sites and can spot
foundry defects before anybody else; she loves it.
15, Removing calcium deposits that had built up on the bronze
and granite structure over the past 25 years.
She is happy that her children have shown interest in
the work, and she is hoping George will continue with it as an adult.
I learned as a child and even worked on the Broadway Fountain
with I was a teenager, so coming back there had very special meaning
Although family members are involved, it is Karkadoulias herself who
provides the guiding force behind the business, despite many personal
and medical obstacles and the unorthodox route that led her into the
restoration business in the first place.
A first-generation American of Greek descent, Mercene Ponticos was born
and raised in Cincinnati. Her father, Stephan Ponticos, owned his own
business in Cincinnati that designed wood store fixtures and displays
and distributed them all over the country. At age 27, Mercene bought
her fathers business upon his retirement and, with her first husband,
artist James Axiotes, operated it until 1954 when the city took over
the property by imminent domain to create I-75. They developed Axiotes
Inc. into an advertising art business. At its height, the business had
21 artists under contract to produce advertising art projects for such
clients as United Artists and Proctor & Gamble. They even produced
the first TV commercials in Cincinnati. But Axiotes died suddenly of
a heart attack in 1966 at age 42.
Karkadoulias by then was an active member in the Cincinnati social scene,
and in the late 1960s she fought to save Cincinnatis Tyler-Davidson
Fountain from being replaced by a more contemporary piece. During negotiations
with the city to take on the project to move and restore the fountain
to a new location, she met a Greek immigrant, Eleftherios Karkadoulias,
whom she eventually married in 1970. The two formed Karkadoulias Bronze
Art under the Axiotes Inc. parent company and completed the Tyler-Davidson
From there, the two worked in tandem, building their business and earning
a reputation nationwide. In the mid-1980s, her company competed for
the contract to replace the torch in the Statue of Liberty. After a
long selection process, Karkadoulias Bronze Art Inc. made it to the
final two but lost out to a French-owned company. It was France, after
all, that gave the statue to the United States, and she feels honored
to have even been considered. Even after the couples divorce in
1995, Mercene has continued to take on projects with zeal.
Erway was responsible for making sure all calcium deposits were
from the fountain.
But on Oct. 26, 1997, she was nearly killed in an automobile
accident on Death Hill, a stretch of I-71/75 in northern
Kentucky just before the bridge into Cincinnati. Her crew was returning
from a job in North Carolina, and the cargo van in which she was riding
went over the side of the hill. The vehicle rolled more than a dozen
We were only five minutes from home, and I had just removed my
seat belt to do some paperwork, and I went through the windshield,
she said. The passenger side was mashed in, and had I not flew
out the windshield, I would have been killed.
The accident crushed her heel, pelvis, toes, thumb, while causing nerve
damage to her back and smashed her head. She underwent brain surgery
and several other operations, and was not given much chance to live.
For nearly a year she was confined to a wheelchair and cared for by
She went through hell and back, said daughter Anitsa, who
cared for her mother in her home. They said it was a miracle that
she came back at all. It shows her inner strength to have survived all
Karkadoulias contracted a second bout of cancer in 2002, and underwent
chemotherapy, an operation and radiation, but again she persevered.
In a lifetime of work as a conservator, she has earned a reputation
for hard work and perfection in her craft.
Shes truly an artist and a sculptor in her own right. And
she has this compulsion within her that statues are going unkept, unloved
and uncared for, and she feels a need to get the word out because statues
are suffering all over the country, said Sam Townsend, a retired
administrator for the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C.,
who first met Karkadoulias in 1982.
Townsend has studied the various methods of preservation that people
use to restore monuments, and he says Karkadoulias has one of the best.
But despite her quality of workmanship, he also sees the creative spirit
coming out. I feel she does this work out of a love for it rather
than a need to make money. She has both passion for her work and compassion
Townsend not only worked with her on the numerous State Capitol monument
restorations, but he and his wife, Mary Ellen, became social friends
and have stayed in touch with her ever since. Townsend has visited Karkadoulias
foundry, where he witnessed the creative work going on there.
He says her reputation is well established throughout the industry and
among the dozens of municipalities that have hired her to restore their
statues and monuments.
Kathy Axiotes, Karkadoulias oldest daughter, works as a paralegal
in Cincinnati but also helps with the book work of the family business.
She considers her mother an expert in her field and has witnessed her
in action many times.
close-up shows that all the
hard work will make a difference.
On the one hand, shes my mom and my best friend,
but when I see her working on a piece of art, I realize how creative
and talented she is, said Axiotes, 47. She is often asked
to speak to groups, schools and organizations, and her enthusiasm and
dynamic personality rubs off on people. They just love her.
Axiotes oftens travels to work sites with her mother and has come to
know the business as well as her other sister and nieces and nephew.
All have spend their time chiseling and scraping monuments somewhere
in the country.
Axiotes recently traveled to Carson City, Nev., where Karkadoulias is
currently working on a project simultaneously to the one in Madison.
Shes very congenial and loves to talk to people about her
work so they can see and understand what is happening, they appreciate
it, Axiotes said. Shes often said that her goal for
the remainder of her lifetime is to restore as many monuments as she
can because she believes this is our history, and she wants to help
Broadway Fountain was designed by French sculptor J.P. Victor
Andre for the James Kirtland Co. of New York. Copies were made
for Savannah, Ga., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Cuzco, Peru. Madisons
example is the least altered. 1876: Fountain on display
in the Agricultural Nave of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
1884: Fountain purchased by Independent Order of Odd
Fellows, Madison Lodge No. 72.
1886: The iron cast fountain was brought to Madison by
the Odd Fellows and dedicated on Sept. 28, 1886.
1976: After years of falling into disrepair, Madison
residents raised enough money to have the fountain restored
and re-cast in bronze by the Karkadoulias Bronze Art Inc. It
was re-dedicated on Aug. 9, 1980.
Oct. 24, 2004: The City of Madison plans to hold a 2
p.m. re-dedication ceremony of the newly restored fountain after
summer-long work by Mercene Karkadoulias.
Axiotes related a story about her mothers vision
that she saw during her hospital stay following her near-death accident.
Karkadoulias believes she saw a vision of her deceased mother, who told
her that she unfinished business to do on Earth before she dies.
Its almost like you have a certain mission in life, and
she knows what her mission is, and she is determined to see it through,
Axiotes said. I really admire her for what she has been through.
Kim Franklin Nyberg, director of programs at Historic Madison Inc.,
is teaming with Karkadoulias to present a program on the fountain at
10 a.m. Oct. 14 at Trinity United Methodist Church on Broadway. Nyberg
plans to present historic photos and documents from the HMI collection
relating to the fountains history. She, too, is struck by Karkadoulias
resolve and knowledge.
My talk will focus mainly on the fountain as an object of art
and as a community centerpiece, Nyberg said. Mercene will
talk about all the work theyve done. She is a fascinating person
who I think people will really enjoy hearing speak.
Munier said he had not met Karkadoulias before this summer, but that
he was quite impressed.
She is very knowledgeable and sincere, Munier said, and
she really cares for this community and this fountain. Anybody who remembers
what the fountain looked like back in June compared to what it looks
like now is going to be surprised and proud of what she has accomplished.
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