I am excited to report that the installation of Canopy, the major mosaic ceiling and column for the Anchorage International Airport that I have been working on with Anchorage sculptor Sheila Wyne for more than two years, is underway.
Sheila, our project partner Bruce Farnsworth, and I met on Monday morning with Glen Fuglestad, Department of Transportation Project Manager for the entire massive airport renovation. Joining us at Glen's office were Erik Breese, an Anchorage artist and skilled craftsman we'd hired to assist the mosaic installers from Munich, and the two master mosaicists themselves. Herbert Hahn and Daniel Heinkelein did virtually all of the fabrication of the mosaic itself, working steadily since last winter and putting in lots of overtime to have it here on time for installation.
Herbert and Daniel had scheduled two days of onsite planning and preparation before beginning to put mosaic on the ceiling, but thanks to Sheila's and Bruce's extraordinary efforts, coupled with those of the Mosaic department and Susanne Tarraf at Mayer of Munich in Germany, the two crates containing all the mosaic sections were through customs and awaiting us on site, along with scaffolding, tools, and everything needed to start work.
Herbert, who has been doing this kind of work for forty years, said he had never reached an installation site with things more ready, and within four hours of seeing the space for the first time, they were installing mosaic.
The packaging, shipping, and organization of the mosaic sections are logistical marvels in and of themselves. All the mosaic sections, as well as work clothes and a box of specialized tools, came in two large wooden crates. Each carefully padded cardboard box within the crates is numbered with the sections it contains, and is keyed to the overall map of entire ceiling image.
Erik mixes the glue and mortar to the right consistency and trowels a thin coat on the back of a section. Daniel or Herbert trowels a base of the same mix on the durarock-covered ceiling, and the section is pressed into place and pounded and kneaded with a rubber mallet to secure it seamlessly. The next piece repeats the process, snugging perfectly with the one before.
As with everything Herbert and Daniel do, it looks easy when you watch them, but Sheila and I both know from having worked on the fabrication with Herbert in the studio in Munich that that is an illusion, built on his lifetime of practice. We feel again, as we did on our trips to Munich, lucky to be working with people who are the best in the world at what they do.
The rhythm of the process is occasionally broken by the need to cut out sections for the sprinkler heads in the ceiling and rebuild the mosaic piece by piece around them, to saw out the section of the image impinged upon by the beam that crosses the clerestory space, by the need for a different kind of scaffolding, or the breakdown and repair of the heavy duty drill used for mixing the cement...a host of little things. But thanks to Sheila's readiness to get and bring anything that's needed on a moment's notice, the extraordinary helpfulness of everyone from PCL--the prime contractor for the project--and all their subcontractors on the site, Glen Fuglestad's support, and Herbert and Daniel's flexibility and experience, the pace of progress is astonishing.
Barring unforeseen complications, the ceiling may be done in another week, and work underway on the 9 1/2 ft. tall, 2 1/2 ft. diameter mosaic column that reaches from floor to ceiling near one corner of low side of the soaring space. When the construction barrier walls are removed and the newly remodeled areas opened in late September, the column will be visible nearby after coming through Security toward either of the two main concourses in this main terminal, and visible from nearly the entire length of both.
The ceiling, in its 2-story, clerestory space, is located at the junction of those two main concourses, and becomes visible only as travelers approach and pass under it. Our hope is that the column, a somewhat more abstracted birch trunk image, will intrigue travelers as they approach it, but only become representational as the ceiling comes into view, suggesting a grand canopy of birch forest reaching into the sky. The scale of all this--both the imagery and the logistics--is pretty overwhelming to me. It's been a long time in the planning and execution, but it's all beginning to come together. Keep checking this site. I'll continue to post images and some brief, personal commentary as the installation nears completion.