Client: Private Client
Location: Maury Island (Vashon) , WA, United States
Completion date: 2022
Artwork budget: $300,000
Classic Foundry/Seattle Art & Industrial
Jake Johnson Enterprises
The Pettibone Venus is a celebration of repurpose. In 2001, the old crane I used to move massive stone broke down. It sat fallow for many years, a sad, rusting, peeling-paint fate for a mighty steel machine that once boasted a lift capacity of 60 thousand pounds with its 70 foot telescoping boom. So what to do with it….add its carcass to a scrap heap, or allow it to ignominiously disappear into the thickets? Instead, I decided to repurpose it as a sculpture.
To address an obvious trite metaphor, the crane’s aggressive “maleness” needed to be balanced equally by something with the power of “femaleness”. The Venus of Willendorf with her rotund curves came to mind.
If I invited a female icon into the sculpture, how might I incorporate her smoother and more powerful curves as a juxtaposition to the rigid lines of the massive machine? Researching images of fertility I found a spectacular photograph of a ballerina who, with perfect, lithe flow, celebrates her pregnancy, unencumbered. To achieve an enduring representation of that spirit, and match the ephemeral nature of the steel, I created the pregnant dancer monument in bronze and then married the two icons.
The major goal for this commissioned artwork was to transform a derelict, rusting, no-longer functional industrial icon (a 75 year-old Pettibone crane) into something that retained the machine's evocative symbol of power and purpose while at the same time morphing it into an aesthetically pleasing form.
I felt that the “beast” in it needed to be tamed, however. So justaposing the crane’s straight and vertical lines with the curvateous form of a pregnant ballerina, dancing in the joy of her state, worked perfectly to balance the two forms. I wanted to create a purposeful provocative ambiguity via the symbolism entailed in the combination of forms and it has achieved that goal. The work has provoked many interpretations.
After identifying the site for the work, I brought my design, landscape site drawings and maquette to my partner, Ion Onutan at Classic Foundry in Seattle. We refined the maquette, CAD-scanned it, cut a full-sized 12’x 10’ industrial foam replica on our CNC, and coated the foam core with clay. Gegham Abrahamyan and I worked the detail and textures. Into wax molds, the Classic Foundry team poured and welded together 180 separate bronze pieces over a steel armature, then chased the 12 foot sculpture of the dancing Venus. At the same time we were creating the bronze sculpture, Jake Johnson's team drained the hydraulics and oil on the 75 year-old derelict crane, then landscaped the site. excavated and towed the crane a mile and carefully lowered it into its 28'x12'x 8' envelope, exposing only the boom. We encased the entire body of chassis and engine in gravel and concrete and removed all non-metal parts. We transported the bronze Venus by ferry to the site on Maury Island-Vashon where she was be introduced to the Pettibone crane. There, I sand-blasted and pre-rusted the steel before marrying the two sculptures. The Classic Foundry patina artist, Jonathan Kusma, applied patina to the bronze work so that its color matched the rusted boom.
The Pettibone Venus is a 'purposeful ambiguity" that relates to the perpetual, inherent struggle implied by this work’s juxtaposition of a steel industrial icon with a classical, representational figure. It is dedicated to all of us, especially women of all ages…and our constant struggle to manage progress…to all of us who, despite the rusting of our ambitions, at the same time also continue to celebrate the joy in humanity’s preservation of life.