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Published: Thursday, 9/10/2009

Tatum column installation on key; major opus honors Toledo jazz great

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

By 9:08 a.m. yesterday, the first of 12 sections comprising a giant vertical keyboard was raised 30 feet by a crane, corralled by two men on scissor lifts, and fitted onto a 10-inch-diameter steel pipe.

At 9:12 a.m., it was pulled off the column and returned to terra firma, where the straps securing it to the crane were lengthened.

And at 6:50 p.m., the last piece was attached and the artwork was assembled. Today, the lights, including 400 LEDs, and wiring will be done.

Watching with anticipation and snapping photos was California sculptor Cork Marcheschi. "The first one is the hardest," he noted.

Steven Baker, an aide to Cork Marcheschi, helps to guide a section of the column into place. It took a five-man crew 11 hours to assemble the structure yesterday. Steven Baker, an aide to Cork Marcheschi, helps to guide a section of the column into place. It took a five-man crew 11 hours to assemble the structure yesterday.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

Next to him, Patricia Levey clapped her hands in unbridled excitement. A visual tribute to Toledo-born Art Tatum had been an idea in search of a site for at least a decade, said Ms. Levey, leader of a committee that's inched its way toward this day for six years. Music venues such as International and Promenade parks were considered. But the stars and the money finally aligned with the new Lucas County Multipurpose Arena, set to open in a few weeks.

Tomorrow at noon, the Art Tatum Memorial Celebration Column will be dedicated at the arena's north entrance, where Madison Avenue meets Superior Street.

Not only was the 27-foot steel-and-glass structure slow to take root, it took two years for Mr. Marcheschi and his colleagues Steven Baker and Reid Johnston to fabricate it in a San Francisco-area workshop, and 11 hours and a five-man crew to assemble it yesterday.

"The sculpture really was inspired by Tatum's incomparable ability to bend the keyboard," he said, referring to the jazzy twist he designed into the vertical keyboard. Internationally renowned, Mr. Marcheschi, 64, is a fan of the piano genius.

At 9:18 a.m., secured by longer straps, the initial section of three-foot-square keyboard was returned to the column and guided down. It was raised and lowered a couple of times by crane operator Ken Thompson, a sculptor himself, before straps were removed at 9:28, and 45 minutes of bolting it to the concrete footing as well as to the columnar spine commenced.

When the third stack was installed, Mr. Marcheschi peered inside and dropped his cell phone. It was retrieved by using double-sided tape wrapped onto a tripod leg. After that, the tools were tied together.

The biggest glitch of the day was having to use scissor lifts instead of bucket lifts. The internal structure was designed to be worked on from bucket lifts which tilt and give the installer flexible leverage that the platform of a scissor lift does not. Bucket lifts had been rented, but general contractor Lathrop Co. refused to allow them, concerned they might be too heavy, he said. That slowed everything down, resulting in the crew having to put in an additional day, said Mr. Marcheschi, cranky at 5 p.m.

The most expensive piece of public art Toledo has seen, the keyboard will be fitted today with strands bearing 400 high-intensity and long-lasting LEDs, each about a square-inch with a 180-degree beam spread. Sandwiched between each of the 88 keys is a three-quarter-inch plate glass, through which blue light will glow. The keys themselves are stainless steel; the exterior four sides of each were powder-coated for durability and color (ivory and black tones).

In the last 23 years, Mr. Marcheschi, 64, has completed dozens of pieces of public art; they're in Des Moines and New York City, Chattanooga and Hong Kong, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

"It's very different than gallery work. What I like about it is the freedom to create a solution," he said.

Minnesota's 150-degree temperature swings are a far cry from Singapore's steamy heat. His most challenging piece was a flat-bottomed fishing boat called a dory, which he made of raw steel and glass atop an abandoned bridge abutment in Grey's Bay, Wash. "I drove by and saw it and it was a pedestal waiting for a sculpture," one that, it turns out, gets slapped by salt water, scorched by 100-degree days, and iced in winter.

Of the Toledo project's $300,000 cost, $200,000 was paid for by the city's 32-year-old One Percent for Art program, which sets aside a penny for each buck Toledo spends on construction. The balance was funded by donations, notably George Chapman, CEO of Health Care REIT Inc., and

KeyBank, said Adam Russell, public art coordinator for the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.

Art Tatum was born in 1909. His eyesight was damaged by childhood diphtheria, and as a teen, he lost his left eye to a mugger. He amazed other musicians - even classical greats - with his harmonic sequences and lightning runs woven from the melody's concept. He died in 1956 at the age of 46.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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