University Park, Pa. -- Efforts to preserve and protect the stately Nittany Lion Shrine are going high-tech. The lion shrine, crouched across the street from Rec Hall on Penn State's University Park campus, will be digitally scanned and unavailable to receive guests on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 22 and 23. Survice Metrology of Belcamp, Md., will do the 3-D modeling of the shrine. The process will result in a digital replica of the shrine, which then can be used to re-create the shrine in part or in whole, to repair any damage.
Phillip Melnick, director of buildings and grounds for the Office of Physical Plant and the de facto "keeper of the lion shrine," said the University understands the popularity of the lion shrine, especially during football season. "We worked to ensure maximum availability of the shrine to football fans," Melnick said. "That's why the work is being done on a Tuesday and Wednesday. We figure most fans come into town for a game starting on Thursday, and we expect the work to be done by then."
In 1995, the last time the University hired a firm to create a means by which damage could be repaired, the shrine was inaccessible to the public for about six weeks while the lion was "caged" in a crate and a casting was made. That casting, made of polyurethane rubber and fiberglass, has developed some cracks and is well past its useful lifespan. "If something were to happen to the shrine, we might be able to use that casting to create a replacement piece of the lion, but, we're not certain the casting would survive the process," said Melnick.
Melnick said the digital scanning process will take two days to complete, and the scan will be usable for decades. "Technology will change, but usually the newer technology is backward-compatible so the scan will be viable for a long time," said Melnick.
The company doing the work, Survice Metrology, has used this process to create digital models of the Sphinx, and other precious artifacts including Michelangelo's David.
Although not common, there has been damage done to the lion shrine in the past – both intentionally and unintentionally. The shrine has lost its right ear three times over the years. Vandals damaged the shrine in 1978 and again in 1994. In 2003, the right ear again came off, although it appeared the damage was accidental.
Sculptor Heinz Warneke created the statue in 1940 from a 13-ton block of Indiana limestone, as a likeness of the mountain lion that once roamed Nittany Valley. The Nittany Lion has been Penn State's mascot since 1907 but was not officially recognized until this statue was presented as a gift to the University in 1942 from the Class of 1940.