Client: Presbyterian Senior Residential Community
Location: St. Louis, MO, United States
Artwork budget: $140,000
Christopher Thomson Ironworks
Ginni Campbell, Client
Willow was conceived as an abstract female figurative piece using the forging techniques of drawing and upsetting of Corten Steel belts. Contrary to how it looks, the steel was not bent, it was pounded and forged with a 50-ton trip hammer. Willow stands 16’ high and is placed in the middle of a 100’ x 20’ retention pond. The permanence of iron is wed to the mutability of water creating a sense of movement with static materials.
Because it is the focal point in the courtyard of a Presbyterian Senior Residential Community entry-way, I wanted the piece to inspire and represent longevity. The solidity of the material over the water creates an immense reflection, an often used metaphor for life and our departure from it.
In particular, Willow was inspired by a 93-year-old woman who possessed an unusually spritely spirit. I purposely chose iron, the element from the core of the earth to mirror this woman’s intense and memorable presence.
This project was collaboration between the family members who commissioned the piece, the architect from the city of St. Louis, the architect of the residence community, the city’s building inspector, the blacksmith Christopher Thomson, an engineer, and me. The entities stretched across four states.
Translating the maquette from inch to foot required everyone’s expertise and openness to ideas. For example, the engineer needed to assist with the numbers, the weights, the angles. Thompson, the blacksmith, figured out how to load the forge with a 1200 pound piece of steel, move it to the hammer and the forge while yellow heat temperature (2200 degrees F), move it back to the forge when too cool to work (approx.. five minutes), which proved difficult but not insurmountable. We did this with four, twelve-foot, 1200 pound pieces over two weeks. Producing Willow was the largest forging in the state of New Mexico since 1942, when the railroad made locomotives here.
Installing the piece was equally as challenging as pounding the steel into form. We removed 12 square feet of soil from under the existing retention pond and filled it with concrete to secure the foundation for the weight and height of the sculpture.
The project’s success was the result of Herculean efforts on behalf of everyone who participated. It represents the true definition of collaboration, and the beauty of it is that it will stand for millennium!