"Arc" wins Peekskill public art competition

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Arc in Peekskill

In 2014, the City of Peekskill NY, on the east side of the Hudson River just south of West Point Academy and an express stop for The MetroNorth and Amtrak railroads, announced a competition for three artworks to be placed in the newly-refurbished waterfront park. The site was at a spectacular bend in the river with views of Bear Mountain and the approach to Constitution Island beyond. The trains heading north and south overlooked the park and would guarantee thousands of eyeballs would see the new art and its beautiful setting.

I had been experimenting with large kinetic sculptures for several years by then and decided to submit a design suitable to the scale of the park and the landscape. I had also designed and built several sailboats, one of which crossed the Atlantic and another which I sailed regularly by the site, so I was familiar with structures that came alive under the action of wind. I conceived a design that was a welded aluminum semi-circular arc twenty feet in diameter and supported flexibly by a heavy-duty chain on a "mast" twenty feet tall. The center of gravity of the arc had been shifted by massive internal counterweights so the arc moved and behaved in counter-intuitive ways. I had already tested several models and built a full-size prototype that had been outdoors in a windy environment for several months and had video of it in motion.

I presented the design to a jury appointed for the selection of the artworks. A dozen artists had already made submissions and I encountered a few of them after they had made their presentations. None of them looked particularly happy. I made my presentation and got a favorable review with lots of questions being asked. This was a large piece I was proposing and I could see a little skepticism and some anxiety as to whether the public would be safe. I was required to present engineering drawings and calculations stamped by a professional engineer. In theory, being a licensed architect, I would be qualified under NYS law to stamp and certify my own design, but the jury wanted an objective and independent analysis.

Several weeks later, I was notified that I would be awarded one of the three sites and would receive a substantial commission to produce and install the sculpture. I contracted with a local artist and welder in Dobbs Ferry, Malcolm MacDougal, to fabricate and help test the sculpture. Fortunately he had a large shed studio right on the Hudson and access to cranes for the erection and testing of the sculpture. Fortunately the tests went well and Peekskill's Village Manager was satisfied that the public would be safe, even in hurricane force winds and blizzard snowfalls.

The site was prepared with a heavy concrete base situated in the 500-year floodplain 50 feet from the water's edge. We hired a large telescopic crane and a low-bed tractor trailer that would allow the semicircular arc to clear the bridges on the way to the site, that is clear by 6" at a speed of 55mph. Some nail-biting by me was involved in this operation. When we arrived on site, a crew of six village officials and representatives was there to greet us, as well as the erection crew with crane and scissors-lift. The process went smoothly and at the end of the day the sculpture came alive under the wind. It has been gyrating, spinning and swaying as designed for eight years now and hopefully for another hundred years more.