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Project to Mount Annunciation Sculpture Begins

 
facade6Residents, students and visitors to Ave Maria have had the rare experience of watching renowned sculptor Márton Váró create an image of The Annunciation from 15 unformed blocks of white marble. Soon, they'll be able to watch another unusual activity - the engineering feat of affixing the bas-relief to the wall of the distinctive oratory.

So, how do you mount a 75-ton sculpture on the wall of a church?

"Carefully," replied Ken Bownds, an engineer from Dallas who is consulting on the project.

"You only get one shot at it," he said. "You're moving heavy pieces of irreplaceable artwork." At right, Mr. Bownds (r) and Mr. Váró examine pieces of stone that will need to be mounted.

facade-bass2Mr. Bownds has had some experience with projects like this. He worked with Mr. Váró 11 years ago when he supervised the mounting of another work by the artist -- two enormous limestone angels that adorn the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, TX. (left)

"Each of those angels is 50 feet high, contains 52 different pieces of stone and weighs 105 tons," he said.

Putting up The Annunciation sculpture presents its own set of challenges, he added, and will involve a number of people with different skills, including stone setters, stonemasons, general construction workers and crane operators.

Work began this week, as crews put up a fence to create a construction zone in front of the oratory.

From now until the marble is mounted -- likely around the end of the year -- the front doors of the oratory will be inaccessible, and entry will be through the side doors only.

facade5The immediate task, said Skip Doyle, Ave Maria University's director of construction, is to prepare the wall, which will first require the removal of more than 100 of the travertine stones that border the area where the sculpture will be placed. The stones will be numbered, stored, and eventually replaced in exactly the same spot when the sculpture is up. In the photo at right, of Mr. Váró and Mr. Bownds examining the site, the stones that will need to be removed are the ones forming an arch closest to the grey area.

oratory3aaThe grey stucco currently covering the area (left) will also has to be removed and the wall treated with waterproofing being donated by DuPont, Mr. Doyle said. Then, a small concrete wall will be built on the oratory balcony on which the marble sculpture will rest.

By early December, if all goes well, it will be time to begin transporting the marble blocks to the church, hoisting them into position, and affixing them to the wall with a specially-designed system of brackets. Stones sitting on top of each other will have slots cut into the top and bottom, where a metal bracket will be inserted and anchored with bolts extending through the wall. Joints will be caulked wfacade2ith a compound that looks like marble, developed and donated to AMU by Dow Chemical. In photo at right, Mr. Doyle demonstrates the brackets with two sample pieces of marble.

Mr. Váró said he has one final piece of the 15 to complete, which he will be doing while the preparation work is under way. He will continue to work on the sculpture once it is mounted, doing finishing work and ensuring that the pieces all fit together seamlessly.

facade3Until then, he continues to work every day on the university mall, where he carved the first chip more than a year and a-half ago. The sculpture will be formally dedicated and "unveiled" at a ceremony on the Feast of the Annunciation -- March 25, 2011. Left, Mr. Bownds and Mr. Váró examining the four panels of marble that depict the angel Gabriel.

Mr. Váró will speak about the project and be available to answer questions at the next meeting of the Ave Maria Founders Club, Nov. 16 at The Bean of Ave Maria. Details about the meeting are here.

future1aa

The photo at right, a digitally-enhanced picture provided by Ave Maria University, shows how the completed sculpture will look.

 

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