Then, on August 17, a trusty three-person crew arrived from the Parks Bronze Foundry to install the whale on its permanent site. The crew had stolen time from pending projects at the foundry and so were under pressure to return, hard as it was to miss the opportunity to enjoy Alaska for a few days. For this reason, among others, I had willed good weather. So when the next day brought some of the worst summer weather Juneau has to offer I could only shrug my shoulders sheepishly. Wind-driven rain whistled horizontally under the bridge, creating wet and difficult if not dangerous working conditions.
With a ¾ ton, 14-foot long fin dangling from a crane cable over our heads and responding to the wind like a jib sail, the job of getting it on the whale would have been impossible except for Craig Starmer, the welder. He had anticipated such a possibility and had devised a pin and hole registration system, greatly simplifying getting the fin into exact position for welding. Wet, cold, and muddy as we were at the end of the day, it was time to visit one of Juneau’s downtown bars for a celebratory drink. The first of Tahku’s fins was permanently welded in place.
Left fin (flipper) hoisted by crane and dangling in wind while we try to guide it into place for welding onto body of whale. The lifting straps have to be positioned at exactly the right “pick point” in order to have the fin hang in the proper position (pitch and yaw?) for welding.
With fins attached, Tahku, ready for installation on its permanent site on the Juneau Waterfront, waited impatiently. Another gorgeous Juneau morning dawned as the sun rose over Mt. Roberts. With trailer attached to a truck, the sculpture was slowly towed from under the bridge and over the rough construction zone terrain to its permanent site at the edge of the sea, a distance of about 150 yards. As it emerged from its shelter and became visible to early morning traffic crossing the bridge, Tahku was cheered on by a chorus of honking horns and people cheering and leaning out of car windows snapping pictures.
The design of the vault allowed me to orient the whale to face any compass point before it was welded in place. Thanks again to the skill and experience of Craig Starmer, the welder, in choosing the “pick point” (the precise spot in space where the lifting straps were attached to the crane’s waiting hook) the whale was lifted perfectly, with no alarming swaying back and forth and with its base parallel to the vault. I had positioned my maquette, or working model, on the site several times in the previous years to study lighting, view points, and background and so knew exactly which way the large whale should face. With the bronze suspended a foot above the vault, only a small rotation was required before I could signal the crane operator to lower Tahku onto its home.
The concrete and steel vault on which the sculpture would stand and through which the sculpture’s interior could be accessed, was already in place. After half of the day spent in preparatory work, the moment finally arrived for the welds holding the six-and-a-half ton bronze to its trailer to be cut loose freeing Tahku for lifting onto the vault. A small crowd had gathered and a kind of festive atmosphere developed. The steel cable which was expected to do the job looked to me too thin and puny, but the crane operator waved my concerns aside. Listening to the groans and squeals of the crane and watching it settle as it took the weight put my heart in my throat. Then, suddenly the whale parted from its trailer and daylight shone beneath it. With great care it was swung over the vault, completing the last few yards of its journey in distance from the foundry and the last few moments of its years’ long journey in time from the first roughing out of its form as a 24 inch high working model, in the backyard of my family home in Wisconsin.
Tahku had received its patina, (chemical treatment to create its surface colors) at the foundry, but there were several spots where it had rubbed against its trailer during transport, and where fins had been welded on site, and where temporary lift handles had also been welded on and later removed, so touch up patination was required. The two bright golden spots in the attached photo show, for example, where a lift handle has been removed. Bart Latta, the patineur, who like the welder is an experienced artist in his own profession, spent the next couple days tending to the raw areas and applying a fourth and fifth coat of clear lacquer to protect the patina in Juneau’s marine climate.
R T WALLEN