VIDEO: Area artist designs sculpture to last many generations
NEW LONDON — Glistening in the morning sun on the banks of the Mill Pond in New London, a six-foot-tall, polished stainless steel sculpture depicting a set of hands releasing a dove is waiting to be taken to the International Peace Garden on the border of North Dakota and Canada.
When it’s installed — either in late August or early September — it will sit on a pedestal of white granite from Cold Spring in a fountain surrounded by shooting sprays of water in dedication to the continuation of the peaceful border the U.S. and Canada have shared for over 200 years.
New London sculptor, Art Norby, was commissioned to do the project in 2014 when he was contacted by a North Dakota RV group.
Norby, who has produced many significant public sculptures such as the Korean War Memorial in St. Paul, said having a piece of his work at the International Peace Garden has special meaning.
“It’s nice to be part of something that is that large in scope, that important,” Norby said.
The sculpture is designed to last for hundreds of years.
“That means that my grandchildren’s grandchildren, or your grandchildren’s grandchildren, will be able to come and see it, and hopefully it’ll have even more meaning then than it does now,” Norby said.
The project, which entailed man-handling 300 pounds of clay, wasn’t easy for Norby, who is 77 and thought his 40 years of being a sculptor was “pretty well winding down.”
Nor was it easy for the folks in North Dakota who commissioned the project, taking on the task raising nearly $74,000 for the work of art.
“We were kind of gutsy and a little naïve,” said Vern Zink, 84, a retired attorney and engineer from Bismarck who led the fundraising effort — which is still about $21,000 short.
Zink happened to see Norby’s sculptures while on an RV stop in Spicer, which is near Willmar, about four years ago. After several conversations and meetings the group selected Norby to produce the sculpture.
Norby was “very gracious and very good to work with,” said Zink, who saw the completed hands of peace monument earlier this month in Norby’s backyard.
“I’m very impressed,” said Zink, who called Norby “a gift of God.”
The sculpture will actually replace one that an RV club — the Wally Byam Caravan Club International — had commissioned in 1975.
When the club president inquired about getting a photo of the sculpture in 2005, he learned that the monument, which was made of fiberglass coated with aluminum, had deteriorated in just five years in the harsh freeze/thaw climate and alkaline water and had been removed.
Since 1979, there was nothing there “except a couple of rocks it was set on,” Zink said.
Zink’s RV club – the North Dakota Peace Garden Unit – is associated with the international club and took on the task of putting a new sculpture in the same place.
The one Norby made has a totally different design than the original and the material used is meant to endure the harsh elements.
“If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right,” Zink said.
The stainless steel will be “almost maintenance-free” other than being polished every 35 years or so to maintain the luster, he said.
Because of the nature of working with stainless steel, and because the sculpture will be perched in a pool of water surrounded by a fountain spray with visitors about 25 feet away, Norby said he chose a “minimalist” design.
Unlike his usual bronze sculptures that include fine life-like details, this one will be identified by its distinctive shape and the shimmer of polished stainless steel.
During the time-consuming project, Norby had to make sure the size of the four-foot long hands and the five-foot long dove were in proportion to a real bird and hands.
Using a special sculptors’ foam and clay, the bird was suspended from the ceiling — hovering over the set of hands — in Norby’s studio while he carved the monument into shape.
“The bird, of course, flew all around while I was working on it,” Norby said.
When the clay sculpture was done he cut off the wings of the bird and put them in separate crates and the body went into another crate.
He built a crate around the hands and loaded them all up in a pickup on Christmas Day in 2014 and drove to the foundry in Utah in a white-knuckle winter blizzard.
He went back this June to pick it up and is now ready to send the sculpture to its permanent home at the Peace Garden on the border of North Dakota and Manitoba.
Zink said the new sculpture will be dedicated next July.