This has been the year of great art opportunities. The latest wonderful thing to come to me was being invited to create a permanent public sculpture for the City of Columbia's newest section of the Vista Greenway. The Greenway is a walking/biking path created to connect local neighborhoods with Finlay Park and with the Vista area of Columbia.
Just before our classes ended, I was invited down to take a look at a potential site for the sculpture. Wim Roefs met me at his gallery in the Vista and we walked through the Lincoln Street tunnel toward Finlay Park. The tunnel is an old rail tunnel that runs under a multilane street. It's floor is laden with evidence of a large pigeon population. On the other side of the tunnel the landscape transitions from the tunnel and street overpass into the park.
We checked the spot and Wim stood on the prospective site so I could take photos.
You can see the kids were running wild. G was nice enough to herd them while I looked around and considered the surroundings to try to get some ideas. Sometimes ideas for a particular site come slowly. Sometimes they come fairly complete while you're standing there with your kids running and jumping like animals. I wanted something brightly colored for a site with a lot of red and green around it. I wanted something tall to be seen from the tunnel, from the park and from the adjacent road.
Within a day I had three potential ideas with this one as my favorite. The ideas were submitted quickly as we were working under a pretty tight deadline for a public art project. I essentially had two months to create and install this one. The committees involved understood that time was a consideration and they approved the idea fast.
I ordered the steel immediately.
On my very first day of summer break, I got up at 6am, ran, exercised and was in the basement studio early.
I had a good idea of how to create the main form so mentally it went fast, though physically it was much slower. All those long seams had to be tacked and then welded solid on the interior.
Each side was cut with the plasma torch and the edges ground smooth before attaching them.
And lots and lots of welding.
Each side was also torqued so they each needed some gentle persuading with a hammer in order to fit. Sometimes they also needed to be cursed at.
A few days later it was time to start on the toes.
Each day started at 6am with the 5K, exercise and coffee. These days are the prime work time between the time I get out of school and the time my kids get out the first of June. This month is when I do the bulk of my sculpting for the year. Most of these days I see no humans all day except my own family when they get home at night. It often becomes necessary to entertain myself, like, say wearing the steel toes.
Each different steel form is cut, welded, ground smooth and sanded before it is attached.
As I said, no humans are nearby while I work which makes working with awkwardly large sculptures challenging. The basement studio has 8 foot ceilings. Just that first form alone was too tall to stand up inside. When it was time to attach the toes, I had to roll the form outside and figure out a creative way to get it to stand up at the correct angle before putting on the toes. I'm sure there's enough comedy in this process to power a sitcom.
Then, as the sculpture continued to grow, it became more and more difficult to move. It was also more difficult to see the sculpture and image it standing upright.
The alternation of welding and grinding goes on and on until it becomes a zen-like exercise.
Sometimes I find it peaceful. Sometimes I find it very, very frustrating.
At the end of the first week of 8-10 hour days, the first form was mostly complete.
At that point I had to begin working on the steel anchoring system. The bottom of the sculpture is welded to an internal steel armature that runs all the way up the sculpture. That part then bolts to the steel anchor connected to the ground.
This is the top of the anchor that will be concreted into the ground.
Once the anchor was solved, it was time to begin the top form.
The sculpture is essentially two entities together, one sitting on top of the other. The top form is smaller but that doesn't mean it went any faster.
So much grinding.
This sculpture uses both hollow form and solid form construction. The top form has "antlers" made of solid steel. This gave me an opportunity to play around with the torch.
So much grinding.
I mentioned the grinding right? It's hard to get the scale of the photo above, but this is the accumulation of metal dust on the studio floor.
With solid form construction, I end up carving a lot. While the forms are very distinct before they are connected, the welding process muddies the water a bit. Those edges have to be cleared up which means even more grinding.
At the very end of the second week came the moment of truth. For two weeks I had only seen the sculpture laying down on the studio floor. I knew how I wanted it to look standing up, but I didn't know if it was going to look that way. On this hot, sunny day, I managed to roll the completed sculpture out of the studio and stand it up outside. I got lucky. It was perfect.
I took a few photos and did the happy dance for a few minutes. Then it was time to get it back inside so I could start on the rest of my summer sculptures.
Fast forward several weeks. The sculpture was delivered to my friends at Comfab for powder coating. Several smaller sculptures were built. A vacation was taken. Then it was time to bring the big guy home to wait for installation.
A few more weeks later, all the pieces fell into place for the installation to begin. My new friend Steven came out and dug a giant hole for me. Then the concrete guy came.
Once the hole was filled with concrete, the steel anchor was placed in the center and carefully leveled.
The kids were with me so they had to leave their mark on the concrete.
A few days later I put the kids in the truck and the tied the sculpture back in the trailer and made interstate drivers do double takes for about 50 miles.
Spencer, one of my students, was nice enough to drive down to help. It's one thing to muscle these things around before they get powder coated. It takes a much more thoughtful and gentle touch once the finish is on. Within just a few minutes we had it bolted down.
The rocks around the anchor helps to keep water and moisture away from the steel.
This sculpture and this entire process is the result of the hard work and support of the Vista Guild, the City of Columbia and One Columbia. I am also grateful to Wim Roefs, Lee Snelgrove and Steven from DiCorte Excavating.
Next time you're in Columbia, drive down Taylor Street. When you get to Finlay Park, look over at the corner of Taylor and Lincoln streets and check out "Curtis & Bob".