U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, poses beside the bust of Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine at the U.S. Capitol in 2019. Steve Collins/Sun Journal 2019 file photo

Among the items damaged during the takeover of the U.S. Capitol by an unruly mob last month was a bust of former U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine.

Farar Elliott, curator for the U.S. House, told a committee this week that a statue of Thomas Jefferson and seven granite or marble busts, including the one of Reed, were exposed to “a fine powder, likely residue from a chemical spray” during the riot Jan. 6.

Elliott told a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that curators had “collected samples of the powder from the marble bust of Speaker Champ Clark, located next to the House Chamber’s west doors.”

They proceeded “to stabilize all four speaker busts temporarily and prevent further damage,” including the one of Reed, and “encapsulated them in museum-grade plastic until we could identify the particulate.”

Reed, a Portland lawyer, served two stints as the House speaker, from 1889 to 1891 and from 1895 to 1899, earning a reputation as a hardfisted Republican keen on firm discipline.

His bust is normally displayed along a hallway near the House Chamber.

Elliott said the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute analyzed the powder sample and identified it as discharge from a nearby ABC fire extinguisher that contained a slightly acidic mix of ingredients that included silicone oil and yellow dye.

He said the yellow dye “can discolor the surfaces it touches, particularly porous stone such as marble.”

To fix the busts, the curator said, will require removing the dye-infused oil by extracting off any powder that remains, then using a special solution and a poultice of synthetic clay to remove the rest.

He asked the panel for a $25,000 appropriation to cover the expense of fixing the artwork.

Elliott said that “during the riot, courageous staffers saved several important artifacts of the House’s legislative history. Quick thinking by a journal clerk secured the House’s 1819 silver inkstand, the oldest object in the Chamber” and the sergeant at arms staff “evacuated the Mace from the Chamber.”

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