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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2008

Touching up 'City Candy': Painter Jim Heldt restores the good looks of Toledo outdoor sculptures

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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City Candy will acquire a more delectable sheen this summer with six gallons of paint and umpteen-thousand brush and roller strokes.

The 25-year-old sculpture is rooted in the basement level of Vistula parking garage and rises up, out, and onto the Summit Street sidewalk in downtown Toledo. At 25,000 pounds, it's a commanding presence, even though its candy-apple red lustre has faded in the sun.

Jim Heldt is in charge of making it (and other large art objects) as good as new, as good as when New York artist Pierre Clerk sliced sheets of aluminum and fastened them together in long rectangles.

As anyone who has painted anything in the last 16,000 years (when the cave painters of Lascaux, France were in demand) knows, successful adhesion of pigment to surface is all about preparation.

Mr. Heldt, who has painted everything from soup to nuts in 25 years, the last 10 for Chas. F. Mann Painting Co., began by giving the city-owned structure a good power-washing, followed by a complete hand-sanding with 150-grit sand paper, and a thorough wipe-down with a biodegradable deep cleaner. A scissor lift on the lower level and a boom lift on the sidewalk takes him where he needs to go.

Despite its location on a heavily trafficked downtown street and being smack dab in the path of skateboarders, City Candy (so named by a Toledoan for its candy cane-ishness) has suffered surprisingly little damage and no graffiti since its last facelift a decade ago.

(Its neighbor, Kabuki Dancer, a colorful aluminum sculpture a few blocks away in Levis Square, wasn't so lucky. Not only was it an alluring platform for skateboarders, but a convenient target for shooting practice by nearby apartment dwellers. Kabuki Dancer limped off to the sculpture hospital and when it's all better, will have a nice, new home away from skate boarders and gunslingers.)

Mr. Heldt patched City Candy's minor scrapes and abrasions with a water-resistant filler and then spot-primed. Just before painting, he laid down a two-inch strip of blue painter's tape on the red precisely where it joins the white. (To get a tight seal, he runs a paint scraper over the tape.)

And then, the moment a painter anticipates: the application of paint.

Mr. Heldt would prefer to spray the piece, but that's not feasible, given its surroundings. Two coats will be brushed and rolled on with a UV weather-resistant polyurethane by Sherwin Williams that will dry to the touch in about two hours.

He figures the white coats will take about 30 hours to apply. After masking off the white, the red coats, which comprise a larger area, will take about 40 hours. He'll be assisted by at least one additional painter.

Mother Nature, of course, is a partner in every outdoor painting project. Mr. Heldt knows to avoid painting in the sun (it dries the paint too quickly and can result in streaking and a diminished sheen) by working on the south side of the piece in the morning and the north side in the afternoon. He'll keep an eye on the humidity, which should be no more than 5 percentage points below the temperature. And he'll scan the skies and check the weather radar on his cell phone for approaching storms.

An avid gardener (he grows more than 50 varieties of hostas in his Walbridge garden), Mr. Heldt has rejuvenated sculpture before, namely Stegosaurus, the 1972 piece facing Monroe Street in front of the Toledo Museum of Art. While applying brilliant red to its 30-some numbered panels in August, 2006, he found sculptor Alexander Caulder's initials etched into the lower corner of each piece.

He also painted the life-sized horse that stood for years in front of the former 4-E restaurant on Airport Hwy., and several of the large, fiber-glass frogs that were situated throughout downtown in 2001.

Despite years on the job, Mr. Heldt still sometimes feels overwhelmed when facing a new undertaking, an apprehension understood by many homeowners.

"You just have to start thinking and planning. You put out a strategic plan and try to stick to it."

He works, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., depending on weather, listening to rock-and-roll on the radio.

"I think about my next step and how we're going to do it and what we're going to need."

After returning City Candy to its former fire-engine-red glory, he'll move a few blocks to Perspective Arcade, and a serene shade of sky blue sprayed onto 18 lanky, upside-down Vs that stretch for almost 50-feet behind the Safety Building in the Civic Center Mall.

And finally, he'll fix a couple of fresh coats of rich, burnt red-orange to Major Ritual at the corner of Spielbusch Avenue and Orange Street, at the edge of the Civic Center Mall.

The tab for painting the three sculptures: $56,050.

"I like painting very much. It's such a sense of achievement when you can take something that looks old and dilapidated and make it look new again."

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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