Sculpture Restoration at Becton, Dickinson and Company

Thirty-Year-Old Sculpture

Michael_Singer_Becton_Interior_Atria_Gardens-6From March 1 thru 11, 2019, my son William and I restored a 30-year-old in-ground sculpture entitled "Atrium Garden" by Michael Singer. It took us 11 long days. Now It’s good for another 30 years!

I was also part of the team that originally installed it in the world headquarters of Becton, Dickinson and Company.

After 30 years this sculpture of pine and stone needed serious TLC.

The original construction was comprised of wood units made of 2x4’s enclosed with ½’’ plywood.



Why PT Was Not Originally Used

Pressure treated wood (PT) products first became popular in the 70's, but by the mid-80's when we constructed this sculpture, research indicated that the chemicals used were too toxic for indoor use. It wasn’t until the 90’s that safer chemicals were used in the production of PT products. Thus, we did not use PT. Instead, we coated the outside plywood with tar and plastic as a safe and effective alternative for protecting the wood from contact with plant irrigation and moist soil.

It held up well, but after 30 years the plastic eroded and the ply rotted. The rot was so extensive that in many places only a sheet of tar remained. The plywood on the visible side of the sculpture was coated with glue and dirt to give the impression of dirt walls as in an excavation. These were in good shape except for the bottom 2" or so where moist dirt created rot. Most of the supporting 2x4’s were pock-marked with rot.

Each hole is about five and a half feet deep with a concrete floor that we covered with dirt to look like an excavation. Under the plants are about a foot of gravel and topsoil. Filling the remaining space between the floor and the soil were layers of thick 4” rigid foam.

Interestingly, we expected to find small lizards and spiders which we spotted at times during the yearly maintenance visits throughout the past years. We encountered none.

A Dirty Job

The contents of each hole were removed - wood structures and large stones. A manual crane was used to remove the stones which were too heavy to lift by hand. Each structure was rebuilt with pressure-treated plywood. Outdoor-grade latex paint and 35-year latex caulk were applied to the seams and bare wood to match the color of the surrounding dirt. Outdoor-grade decking screws were used at all times.

Then each ‘dirt wall’ made of plywood and 2x4’s was removed and rebuilt. Old ply and 2x4’s were replaced with PT. Sheets of thick plastic were placed as a barrier between the dirt and plants and the new structures. Finally, the wood and stone elements were placed back into their holes.


The long days were due to the challenges presented by our location. We stayed at a comfortable hotel only 10 minutes away from the BD campus. We started each day leisurely with a nice hot breakfast and drive over to BD in William’s truck by 10 am each morning. We estimated 16 days for this project if we worked straight thru with no days off. We couldn’t make loud noise from hammers, saws, or vacuums during business hours. So, we used this time to purchase supplies and prepare everything we needed so that once 6 pm arrived we were ready for a loud and intense 3 or 4 more hours of work.

Keeping It Safe

Employees were working and walking near us throughout each day. As a result, we were very careful to keep our worksite clean, organized, and safe. We placed safety cones and air filters all around the worksite. The polished granite and marble floors surrounding the sculpture were protected at all times with moving blankets and thick plastic sheet. And of course, we had to watch our language when faced with the occasional frustrating moment!

About BD

BD is the world’s largest producer of medical supplies. Their many inventions include the syringe, thermometer, ace bandage, and the black leather doctor’s bag, to name just a few. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, BD employs nearly 50,000 people in more than 50 countries throughout the world. The founders, Maxwell Becton and Fairleigh Dickinson were also collectors of art. In 1986 work began to create a new campus in Franklin Lakes, NJ. New buildings feature large work spaces with natural light and beautiful art.

Award-Winning Architecture

The architects Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood envisioned a Tuscan villa-style design. The campus is stately buildings set among rolling hills made of mahogany, polished stone, and copper. Their design achieved every major architectural award. The chief architect, Michael McKinnell, placed large atriums within each building and commissioned the sculptor Michael Singer to create two large indoor sculptures and another large outdoor one. Singer and McKinnell became friends and collaborated on subsequent artworks and architectural designs.

Lost Energy

After about the sixth long and hard day, and only half done, we’d had it! My son William and I were a feeling down and out with no end in sight. So, we called in our friend Al Chapman to lift our spirits and lighten our load. He was just what we needed! His skill, energy, and good humor got us back on track with renewed enthusiasm. Suddenly, the project was almost finished and we were ecstatic!

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