Breakthrough Restoration

Winston Churchill Memorial

Westminster College, Fulton, MO



For Koch Brothers Decorating, the opportunity to undertake the much needed restoration of the 11 foot high by 32 foot long "Breakthrough" sculpture was a great honor. Created by sculptor, Edwina Sandys, from actual sections of the Berlin Wall, this sculpture has been called the most important monument to be constructed on American soil since the Vietnam War Memorial.

Located outside of St. Louis, in Fulton, Missouri at the Winston Churchill Memorial on the campus of Westminster College, Breakthrough is constructed of enormous sections of the Berlin Wall - complete with lively graffiti on the side of the wall that once faced West Germany. In powerful contrast the stark grey of the East German side of the wall is cold and empty. The real and symbolic tearing down of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 is immortalized in this monumental sculpture with two large silhouettes of human forms cut through the eight inch thick walls. Visitors to Breakthrough can use the cutouts as passageways through the wall and re-create the sensation of breaking through to freedom. With enormous effort and commitment on the part of Sandys and the Westminster College administration, the Breakthrough sculpture restoration and preservation project was awarded to Koch Brothers Decorating and completed in 2000.

History: Westminster College maintains a strong historical connection to Winston Churchill as it was the sight of the famous speech by Churchill where the phrase "iron curtain" was first coined and the cold war acknowledged. It was this historical connection that inspired sculptor Edwina Sandys, the granddaughter to Winston Churchill, to create the Breakthrough sculpture and commemorate her grandfather and the historical importance of his relationship to Westminster College.

Most of us remember the fall of the Soviet Union and the broken chips of the Berlin Walls that were circulated and sold throughout the world. During this time, Edwina Sandys learned that East Berlin officials were selling off the historic wall in whole sections. She flew to Berlin and picked through all available wall sections to find continuous sections that had the most colorful and meaningful graffiti art for her sculpture.

In making her selection, Sandys was struck by the repeated use of the work "unwahr" in the wall's graffiti which means "lies" or "untruths" in German. Although the words and images were powerfully recognizable in 1989, by 2000 much of this text and imagery had vanished from Breakthrough's surface.

After making her selection, the wall sections were shipped to New York where the sculpture was created. Edwina Sandys cut out the outlined shapes of a man and a woman and titled the work "Breakthough" to symbolize the breaking free of the countries and people under the control of the Soviet Union and communism. In 1990 the Breakthrough sculpture was installed at the Winston Memorial at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. In attendance at the dedication Breakthrough in Fulton were many world leaders and dignitaries including former President Ronald Reagan and the former leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Problem: Breakthrough was installed at Westminster in 1990 with the colorful graffiti art on the West Berlin side now facing a southern exposure. By 1999 the once lively graffiti art had faded due to the intense sunlight and impact of the elements. Some graffiti was no longer recognizable or had disappeared completely. There was also another problem. The concrete used by the Soviet Union to construct the Berlin Wall was poor quality so that by 2000, the concrete material of the wall was showing signs of failure. These problems prompted the administration at Westminster to attempt a restoration of the work and protect it as much as possible from further disintegration.

Most of our clients expect a finished effect that is subtle and uniform. Edwina Sandys and the Westminster team overseeing this restoration project expected a reliable restoration of Breakthrough's impulsive and inconsistent graffiti art "warts and all". In most cases, Koch Brothers had to recreate the artwork from ghost-like shadows or the markings on old photos of the work. Re-interpreting the graffiti artist's images would have been re-writing the wall's history.

Koch Brothers was interviewed extensively about the condition of the concrete - and options for addressing the disintegration of the surface material. This required that Koch Brothers conduct extensive research prior to starting work so to offer the restoration team as many options as possible in the long-term approach to maintaining Breakthrough's integrity over time.

Process: Commitment to Breakthrough was high throughout this project. The Westminster administration planned and coordinated the restoration with Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys and Koch Brothers. Once our research was complete, results were presented to the restoration team and Koch Brothers was to proceed with surface preparation per our recommendations.

The job entailed first a restoration and stabilization of the concrete substrate. This process involved pressure washing and then the application of a concrete restoration material Aquron 2000. This work was followed by repainting all of the graffiti artwork to exacting detail. Over twenty colors were hand mixed from scrapings made from any of the areas of heavy paint residue where we could scrape below the surface to get to the original paint colors. During the course of the restoration, Ms. Sandys flew to St. Louis and met us at the Fulton sight to inspect the restoration work. Photos taken by Ms. Sandys of the wall sections in East Berlin were also used. We were amazed that she seemed to know every square inch of detail on the sculpture, including exact color retention. Koch Brothers was happy to be entrusted with the project and receive her enthusiastic approval of our work.

Founding of Breakthrough story from Winston Churchill memorial and library: