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Published: Saturday, 6/16/2007

Memorial will recognize bridge workers, those who died

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chicago-based artist Evan Lewis displays a model of the sculpture that he will create for a Skyway memorial. Chicago-based artist Evan Lewis displays a model of the sculpture that he will create for a Skyway memorial.
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CHICAGO The two curvaceous arms of stainless steel will someday churn through the air at a gust of wind. From a pivot point, they ll rise 28 feet off the ground, then stretch a dozen feet higher with help from pairs of paddle-like steel fingers that dangle and spin in the breeze.

Those giant arms, mounted atop a steel beam structure that would rise and merge from four concrete pillars modeled on bridge piers, are designed as marquee elements of the Veterans Glass City Skyway tribute sculpture.

The structure is envisioned to be a tribute to the about 400 workers who helped build the $220 million bridge, especially the five who died and others who were injured during its construction.

Still in design form, the sculpture is slated to be constructed by 2010 in East Toledo along the northern edge of Ravine Park II in a presently unbuilt pavilion area that would be called Tribute Park. There, the sculpture would be visible to motorists on Front Street and the Skyway overhead.

It also would be near the section of the bridge where a gantry truss crane collapsed in February, 2004, killing ironworkers Mike Phillips, 42; Arden Clark II, 47; Robert Lipinski, Jr., 44, and Mike Moreau, 30, and injuring four others. In April, a fifth worker, Andrew Burris, 36, a carpenter, was killed when a platform collapsed.

The sculpture is the work of Evan Lewis, 48, a Chicago-based metal sculptor and furniture designer who in the last 15 years has gained national prominence for his building of large-scale public artwork pieces that move with the wind sculpture known as kinetic art.

In an interview earlier this month at his studio, Mr. Lewis likened the tribute sculpture s two wind-blown rotating arms to the image of automobile traffic flowing in opposing directions across the Skyway s deck.

"The bridge has two directions: You can go one way, you can go back," Mr. Lewis said. "I chose [the rotating arm design] because visually, it s really intriguing. You have two things that are identical, but they never move in the same way because the wind is so random.

"They begin to take a lifelike quality, which I believe is very important for a memorial. It s almost like a head with faces on both sides."

A native of California, Mr. Lewis has been creating kinetic sculpture since the 1980s and has produced pieces across the country, although in recent years mostly in the Great Lakes region. He has sculptures in Westlake, Ohio, the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., and downtown East Lansing, Mich., along with other locations. Some of his sculptures appeared in the 1996 tornado film, Twister.

Mr. Lewis designs and builds his creations inside his studio, a one-story brick structure covered with a fa ade of corrugated sheet metal. The back of the building is filled with steel beams and metal-working equipment, and Mr. Lewis said he plans to fabricate and assemble most pieces of the tribute sculpture there with help from his two assistants.

Once the pieces are assembled, the team will take them apart and ship them by flatbed trailer to Toledo, where Mr. Lewis said he anticipates supervising much of the sculpture s construction.

Mr. Lewis was among 68 artists and teams that responded to a call for artists put out two summers ago by a subcommittee of the Veterans Glass City Skyway task force that was formed after the 2004 bridge accident.

During the fall of 2005, the committee named him as one of three finalists, along with John Young of Seattle and Cork Marcheschi of San Francisco. The three artists traveled to Toledo that November to give presentations on their previous work and share their ideas for the tribute memorial with the audience, which included family members of the ironworkers who died in the crane accident.

For Mr. Lewis, it was his first time working on a project that would memorialize people who have been killed. While he said he appreciated the opportunity for public participation he was caught a bit off guard by the raw emotions in the room.

He recalled how one of the victim s family members asked him, "What can you do that s going to memorialize our loved ones?" His reply, he recalled, was along the lines of "I ll have to get back to you."

Mr. Lewis spent the next six months developing sculpture design ideas, a process that involved a day wandering the memorial site. "It requires a lot of thought and mulling over," he said. "A little bit of sketching but a lot of thinking."

When it comes to the design phase, Mr. Lewis said, he does not use computer-aided drawing programs. He described his approach as "the old-school architecture method with pencil, paper, and straight edge I still work that way, even though no one else does."

After culling public input on the competing sculptures through another artist presentation in May, 2006, the bridge project s task force chose Mr. Lewis design over the others.

Mr. Lewis said he believes his sculpture prevailed in part because it focuses mostly on the spirit of the bridge. It does not concentrate as much as the other sculpture proposals did on memorializing the bridge workers who died, he said.

"I really tried to make something that was much more neutral and open-ended," he said, adding that a plaque or other commemorative object can be added to the sculpture pavilion to tell the workers stories.

The four pillars in Mr. Lewis design were presented during the competition as symbolizing the four dead ironworkers. However, Mr. Lewis now says that the pillars are not a reference to the fallen workers, and he noted how some of his sculptures have eight support columns. "I chose four [pillars] simply because I thought it should be simpler than eight."

Mr. Lewis said the next step in the project involves reviewing the design with an engineer to ensure it can withstand the expected wind load. With its many moving parts, the completed sculpture will require occasional maintenance to weather the passing of time, Mr. Lewis said.

An evening gala last month to mark the Skyway s completion and raise money for the approximately $130,000 sculpture project brought in more than $110,000, said Mary Chris Skeldon, who heads the gala committee for the Skyway task force.

Of the design and building process thus far, Mr. Lewis said he has been particularly impressed by the task force s commitment to getting the public involved. "It s a piece of public art that s done the way public art should be," he said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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