"Pneumatic Dreamer" Sculpted of Bronze-and AirBy Carla Rautenberg Welding Innovation Contributing Writer James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation Cleveland, Ohio
A welded bronze sculpture depicting a slumbering human body has been installed over the entrance to the W San Francisco Hotel. Sculptor Michael Stutz, who likes to say that the figure is "made of bronze and air," aptly named it Pneumatic Dreamer. The piece (Figure 1.) was fabricated of annealed bronze strips intricately woven and then welded together at Matt Gil's Studio, which specializes in doing fabrication work for San Francisco area artists.
A Public/Private Partnership
The $400,000 project was funded by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (manager of the W San Francisco) in accordance with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency One Percent for Art Program. The program stipulates that for major private developments in the Yerba Buena Center Redevelopment project area, where W San Francisco was built, one percent of the construction costs be set aside for the creation of permanent, public art.
Stutz received the commission by unanimous vote of a panel that included representatives from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which is located in the Yerba Buena neighborhood.
An Artist’s Growth
Stutz, who hails from Tennesee, moved to San Francisco in 1987, and supported himself early in his career by creating merchandise displays for Macy’s. His commitment to public art grew out of work he did in New Orleans, designing and building large-scale papier mache figures for the city’s Mardi Gras parades. Later, he began using recycled materials to create sculptures that have been shown in exhibitions throughout the Bay Area. Pneumatic Dreamer is Stutz’s first work in bronze, and initially, he considered having the piece cast. He consulted a foundry but learned the cost would be "astronomical."
The sculpture was specifically designed for installation on the fourth floor terrace of the neoclassical hotel building, overlooking the street below (Figure 2). Stutz points out that the figure, the gender of which is intentionally ambiguous, "could be going into a dream state, or arising from it" and that it illustrates "a very private moment in a very public space." In keeping with that idea, the piece is literally a woven shell, in which, Stutz says, "the inside is outside, and the outside is inside."
Pneumatic Dreamer is lit from both the inside and the front, emphasizing the woven lattice aspect of the design. Its bronze patina will weather to a greenish-blue shade in about a decade.
The Fabrication Process
The 30 ft (9,144 mm) long, 7 ft (2,134 mm) high sculpture was too large to be fabricated inside the shop at Matt Gil’s Studio. Thanks to the temperate climate of the Bay Area, it was possible to weld it in the yard outdoors. Gil notes that "We had hoped to plug weld it from the outside, but that was going to be too time-consuming and would have left the surface blemished. So we had to weld it from the inside." The work was accomplished by a team of three welders, three assistants, and the artist, working together for 3-1/2 months. Michael Stutz, while not a welder himself, put the 0.083 in. (21 mm) thick bronze strips in place and served as the "eyes" during fabrication.
Asked to describe the welding process itself, Matt Gil responds, "We used MIG and standard heliarc TIG welding with a serium electrode. I weld bronze using AC and continuous high frequency as I would do for aluminum, but the use of the serium electrode was unique." All of the smallest parts (the fingers, toes, and face) had to be TIG welded because that was the only tool that could be manipulated in such small spaces. The four mild steel structural columns that support the sculpture were shop-fabricated using Lincoln 7018 electrode.
Stutz and Gil agree that the most difficult aspect of fabricating the piece was the challenge posed by working in such tight quarters. Gil says "We were literally working on top of each other. The welding was like stitching on the inside of the piece, while simultaneously there were guys on the outside doing the weaving. The tediousness was a little unexpected."
Although the soft and tactile appearance of Pneumatic Dreamer fittingly echoes that of a sleeping human body, both Gil and Stutz were surprised at the strength and rigidity of the finished sculpture. When it was completed, Sheedy Crane & Rigging hoisted it out of the fabrication yard and it was trucked to the Third Street location of W San Francisco. Delighted pedestrians gawked as the sculpture was lifted into the air and set onto its supports on the fourth floor terrace above. Like a contented hotel guest, the slumbering figure never stirred, but nestled comfortably into place, dreaming all the while.
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