Two tall steel sculptures titled "The Workers" stand mounted at the LTV Hazelwood Plant as they are readied to be loaded for their trip to their permitted home on the South Side.
Fifteen years after the original commission for a sculptural tribute to the steel industry, artists who created the works watched from the floor of the old LTV coke works in Hazelwood Wednesday as a crane backed up to hook the first pieces of their project, called "The Workers," for a journey across the Hot Metal Bridge.
The moving process began early Wednesday and was finished by midafternoon. Century Steel Erectors moved the sculptures to the South Shore Riverfront Park on 21st Street. Apprentices from the Iron Workers Local Union No. 3 will install them. They weigh between 8,000 and 9,000 pounds and an iron ladle that's part of the sculpture weighs 20 tons.
The move was a drama that attracted videographers, photographers, reporters and crews from newspapers, TV and radio, but the oh-so-long back story belonged to a group of persistent, nervous and emotional artists who lived through a lot of thick and thin during their project.
"I'm too stressed to be emotional," said Tim Kaulen, the lead artist. "I'm nervous. Not about the pieces. They'll do fine in the move. But ... a lot of things are converging in one little window of time."
When the hook lowered toward the first of two sculptures, artist Joe Small ran a finger under his glistening eyes.
"Oh my, oh my," said Mr. Kaulen when cables from the hook girded the underarms of the first sculpture. It was a dramatic moment of short yardage. There was still some welding to do to unbolt it from the floor and long pauses as men in hard hats planned strategy.
When the 18-foot steelworker made of I-beams from a scrapped deck of the Hot Metal Bridge finally lifted off, it did a slow pirouette toward the building's ramp.
Mr. Kaulen called the trip across the Hot Metal Bridge "a powerful and symbolic moment."
From concept to scouting for materials to fundraising to fabricating, the work went slowly due to the need to raise additional money. Fabricating took more than six years. The result involved the work of 21 artists and assistants; financial and in-kind assistance from 30 companies, foundations, heritage organizations and nonprofits; and a laborious creative process that mirrored the hard, heavy work of the industry it has honored.
The total budget ended up being $200,000.
The artists salvaged scrap metal from the J&L electric furnace site on the South Side and the I-beams from the bridge when a deck was removed during a renovation about 10 years ago.
In 1997, before there was a SouthSide Works, the city had put out the call for proposals, and Mr. Kaulen's Industrial Arts Cooperative got the $25,000 commission.
"We were hungry to take on a significant project," Mr. Kaulen said. "We began our process by designing the piece to symbolize the human aspect of the industry, by exaggerating the human forms."
As a result, the two workers tower over the ladle, which will be tipped toward a bed of flowers in the park.
"Oh my God, it has been an interesting past," Mr. Small said. "We've moved those beams so many times" before finding a stable work place in 2001 at the old LTV site. It is now owned by the Almono Corp., a development collaboration of the Regional Industrial Development Corp. and the Heinz Endowments. "We never would have been able to put this together without their generosity."
The outpouring of assistance "has been a wonderful experience," Mr. Kaulen said. "It has made this work [as] not just an art piece but a community remembrance of the steel industry."
Marc Rettig has been attached to the project through his son Marcus, who assisted on it. While his son moved about officially in a hard hat, Mr. Rettig stood by Wednesday with his camera.
"I fell in love with this project when I met it," he said. "I love their form. They're made of steel; they're beautiful. I've done a lot of photographing at old industrial sites, and there is a humanity that you sense even in that huge scale. These [forms] tell a story.
"It's also just the nature of this project. These people love what they do and love the story themselves, and their eager ambitions have endured for 15 years."
First published on August 23, 2012 at 12:00 am