The Fairmount Park Art Association has commissioned Bolt of Lightning…A Memorial to Benjamin Franklin, a public sculpture created by the distinguished artist Isamu Noguchi. Fabrication of the sculpture nears completion at the Crescent Iron Works in Southwest Philadelphia. The work will be a gift to the City of Philadelphia in celebration of Philadelphia’s Fourth Century and will be located on the monument plaza at the West end of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a gateway to the City adjacent to Franklin Square and Independence Mall. The plaza was design by architect Paul Cret in 1925 and is currently under the jurisdiction of the Delaware River Port Authority. Site work at the plaza has begun. Installation is anticipated at the end of May with dedication in June.
The 102′ asymmetrical sculpture consists of a painted steel quadruped base and key which support a spectacular 45′ multi-faceted stainless steel lightning bolt. From the bolt emerge a 23′ tubular steel structure which sustains a stainless steel kite. The sculpture is stabilized by four guy cables or structural bridge strands.
The design of the sculpture was developed in collaboration with Paul Weidlinger of Weidlinger Associates, an engineering firm of international reputation. Weidlinger worked with Noguchi on the development of his sculpture for the Detroit Civic Center Plaza and has also worked with the artists Picasso and Dubuffet.
The sculpture is being fabricated by the Crescent Iron Works in Southwest Philadelphia. Crescent recently completed work on a replica of the Eiffel Tower which punctuates the French exhibition at EPCOT in Walt Disney World. For more than a year, Crescent Iron Works has confronted the unique challenge presented by the extraordinary design of Noguchi’s structure.
Site work and lighting is being coordinated by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Francis Cauffman Wilkinson & Pepper, Architects Ltd. The energy-efficient lighting design has been developed by Jules Fisher and Paul Marantz Inc., Architectural Lighting Design, and utilizes twenty-two 1,000 watt metal halide floodlight luminaires which will be “tuned” individually under Noguchi’s supervision. The system is planned to turn on daily at sunset and run for a fixed time period.
Bolt of Lightning… is an adaptation of a “modernistic” proposal Noguchi made nearly 50 years ago for the Art Association as part of a competition for the Samuel Memorial on the East River Drive in Philadelphia. While the artist had continued to work privately on the concept over the years, local interest was revived in 1979 when a drawing of the 1933 proposed sculpture was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s showing of a major retrospective of Noguchi’s work. Art Association President Theodore T. Newbold supported the reconsideration of the original proposal which has seen many transformations as Noguchi addressed a new site, the scale of the work in relationship to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and the engineering and technological studies which advanced the feasibility of the project. The cooperative efforts of the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Property, the City’s Art Commission and the Delaware River Port Authority continue to assist the development of the project.
The cost of the sculpture, including fabrication, site preparation, installation and lighting is estimated at $850,000 and is supported by a generous grant of $350,000 from the Estate of George D. Widener. Mr. Widener (1889-1971) was a prominent philanthropist who carried on an august family tradition of furthering the quality of life in Philadelphia. The Fairmount Park Art Association, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the support of public art in Philadelphia, will contribute the balance of the funds.
Isamu Noguchi, one of the most innovative American artists of our century, was born in 1904 in Los Angeles, the son of the Japanese poet Yonejiro Noguchi and the American writer Leonie Gilmour. He spent his early life in Japan and the United States, and his work represents a fusion of Eastern and Western philosophies. Noguchi describes himself as a traditional sculptor who makes contemporary images that relate to history, and his Bolt of Lightning…A Memorial to Benjamin Franklin is an homage to the “deepest forces of nature” and to the man who characterized modern American invention. “It is an idea whose time has come,” said Noguchi, commenting that modern technology and the use of the computer made possible the realization of the work.
Noguchi’s public commissions include two peace bridges in Hiroshima, the UNESCO garden in Paris, Yale University’s Beinecke Library garden in New Haven, Chase Manhattan Bank’s garden in New York City, the sculpture garden for the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, twelve choreographed water sculptures for EXPO 70 in Osaka and the design for Detroit’s Civic Center Plaza, including the Dodge Memorial Fountain and Pylon. In 1982, he completed a sculpture garden, California Scenario, in Costa Mesa. Noguchi’s public works mirror the character of our culture and have their roots in the social and ceremonial functions of the sculpture he proposed in the 1930’s. The artist has said that when “art pervades all life, that is the time when there is real culture.”
An exhibition of models, plans, drawings and photographs which document the evolution of the concept over a fifty year period (1933-1983) was held last year at The Philadelphia Art Alliance, 251 South Eighteenth Street.
Bolt of Lightning… is a dramatic, symbolic work, understandable and inspiring. Unique to Philadelphia, it represents the genius of the past and present, a fitting tribute to our Fourth Century.