You’d think the aging process stops once your face is cast in bronze and installed as a sculpture. The mustachioed Henry Flagler stands forever dignified in front of the Key West Ferry Terminal. The larger-than-life Forgotten Soldier at Bayview Park, a salute to Key West’s Black Civil War soldiers, will never retire his Union uniform.

But time had taken its toll and tarnished Key West’s tributes to some of its earliest influencers. Sandy Cornish, Charley Toppino, Flagler, Stephen Mallory and the 35 others whose bronze busts sit atop pedestals in the Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden at Mallory Square were in need of some TLC.

The bronze had started to decay in places. Faces became pitted and blemished by patches of green patina. The men in bronze continued to age — and not entirely gracefully.

Enter Davis Restoration, the family-owned conservation business that consists of Gerri Davis Bray, her husband Burt Bray and Gerri’s adult son, Alex.

The team spent the past week reviving scores of statues and sculptures — from the busts in the sculpture garden, affectionately known as the “Pez Garden,” and the military memorials at Bayview Park, to the Historic Seaport and the fountain at the Key West Aquarium.

The sculptures and plaques that honor the island’s historical figures had been plagued by the island’s salt air, humidity, relentless sun and indiscreet birds. 

“Key West’s climate is way worse for the bronze than in most other places,” Gerri said while working on the Forgotten Soldier at Bayview Park. Her late first husband, Andy Davis, was an artist and sculptor who taught Gerri and Alex how to preserve and maintain his works and those of others. Andy Davis died in a car accident years ago, killed by a drunk driver. The family conservation business continued, and when Gerri married Burt Bray, he joined the team as well.

Davis Restoration started in the Atlanta area, but is now based in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where the Brays live.

“But we go all over the Southeast conserving statues and sculptures,” Gerri said. “People, cities and businesses spend so much money on lawns and park maintenance and other things, which are certainly necessary, but they don’t always think about conserving and cleaning their sculptures. These are valuable pieces of art that really define and reflect the history and nature of a place. It says a lot about a place that invests in maintaining and preserving its sculptures.”

Burt Bray and Gerri Davis Bray clean and restore the Forgotten Soldier sculpture at Bayview Park on Sept. 13. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Plus, Burt Bray pointed out, “Many people and city leaders don’t realize how much attention and free advertising their sculptures receive from all the selfies and photos people take with them and post on social media.”

Every landmark and statue becomes an Instagram location, easily tagged and identified. Consider, for example, the lines of people waiting to photograph themselves at the Southernmost Point each day. And the majority of them move from the buoy to the Bishop Kee statue for their next shot. The same happens with Henry Flagler, the fountain at the aquarium and the military memorials. 

Davis Restoration spent last week in Key West, moving from one location to the next. First, they meticulously hand wash the piece with Dawn dishwashing liquid. Then they apply a special, UV-inhibiting wax and seal it with a heat gun that melds the wax to the bronze to offer lasting protection from the punishing environment.

“We love Key West, and we’ve been in touch with the city trying to make this happen since 2018, so we’re thrilled to be here now,” Gerri said.

The results speak for themselves. For more before-and-after photos of the local sculptures, visit Davis Restoration on Facebook.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.