Moving Day For "The Awakening"
By Anita Huslin
After resting in place for nearly 30 years -- if that can be said of a figure that eternally struggles to climb from the earth -- the cast aluminum sculpture known as "The Awakening" left its home Wednesday from the southernmost tip of Washington's Hains Point.
With the assistance of three trucks, three cranes, one barge and a pair of small front-end loaders, the iconic sculpture was removed from its spot on national parkland in the District to be taken to a white sand beach on the eastern shore of the Potomac River.
The District's loss will be the gain of Prince George's County, where the sculpture now becomes the property of Milton Peterson, who plans to display it at his new National Harbor development. Peterson bought the large figure last year from the Sculpture Foundation, which has held it at the behest of its creator, J. Seward Johnson.
Over the years, Johnson has said in interviews that he was surprised his creation so captivated a city that had largely thought of public sculpture as soldiers on horses, or bronze statesmen in suit coats.
He offered no further explanation for his work, and let the public project its own stories on the figure. It arrived in the spring of 1980, one of more than 88 sculptures invited to the nation's capital for The Eleventh International Sculpture Conference. They adorned Rock Creek Park, the back lawn of the White House, even the entrance of the Forrestal Building on Independence Avenue NW.
At night, one artist lit the skies over Washington with a laser painting of the pyramid that adorns U.S. dollar bills; the image of the mysterious eye cast onto the side of the Washington Monument.
Other pieces included such oddities as a squashed suburban house, with its perfectly mowed lawn flattened out in front of it. Another stood like a steaming vat of primordial mist on the lawn of the Botanic Garden.
People stopped and wondered, pondered what the artists were thinking. Amid the sometimes inscrutable creations, The Awakening laid at Hains Point like an upended turtle, beckoning children and adults alike to stand and stare, sit in his upturned palm, try to scale his knee as it pointed skyward, and climb into his gaping maw, the giant's teeth somehow more welcoming than threatening, perhaps because of their perfect alignment.
On Tuesday, work crews arrived at the site to dig through a foot of wood chips and several inches of soil to get to the steel I-beams that anchored each of the five aluminum pieces of sculpture. Using large 13/16 wrenches, they loosened each bolt by hand, to make sure they could be removed in the frigid temperatures Wednesday morning, when crews returned for the move.
The first crews arrived before 4 a.m., to begin detaching the five body parts from their steel anchors. The heaviest -- the knee -- weighs about 1,400 pounds, while the giant's right arm, which claws upward toward the sky, weighs slightly less. The hand and arm weigh the least -- at about 600 pounds each, while the head is about 1,000 pounds, construction officials said.
For each, the removal process was the same. First, Kevlar belts were stretched around the pieces to lift then out of the ground and on top of bales of hale cushioned by inflated inner tubes. They there were hoisted by crane onto the back of a flatbed truck.
"They said there's another foot buried somewhere here," joked Gene Covell, who is overseeing the work for K.W. Miller. One could imagine the missing appendage was still buried under the giant's upturned left knee.
"Right, the mysterious foot," said Bob Johnson, whose cranes lifted the pieces onto the trucks.
The crews have worked for the Peterson Companies on various projects before. Though the founder, Milt Peterson, has been known to climb on a piece of construction equipment himself to show crews what he wants, this project is probably the most unusual he's ever had them done, said Covell.
"He has a lot of ideas that people say are crazy, but we get along great because I get it," Covell said.
After they removed the sculpture pieces from the site, trucks transported them in a convoy with police escort to National Harbor, near Oxon Hill. There, the trucks drove down to a pier, where a crane offloaded the pieces onto a barge. Later Wednesday, the barge will then be pushed downriver a short distance, to the sculpture's new shorefront home.
There, each of the sculpture pieces will be re-bolted onto concrete footings sunken into the white sand, which was delivered by about 52 trucks, each one carrying about 20 tons of sand.
The sculpture will be the centerpiece of National Harbor, the largest non-casino, mixed-used development on the Eastern seaboard. In April, Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment Company will open its newest hotel and convention center. The Gaylord National will help anchor a development that will also feature stores, offices, restaurants and entertainment venues in the National Harbor portion of the project.
Visitors will be able to sit at water-view restaurant tables and watch the sun set behind The Awakening on the Potomac.
"It's going to look great there," said Keith Payne, a member of the Miller crew. "Better even than it did on Hains Point. It's going to make that place a destination."
Its creator, J. Seward Johnson, is expected to come to National Harbor for the grand opening this spring.
"I hate to see it move but I'm glad to see that it'll still be in the Washington area," said David M. Furchgott, who was director of the 1980 sculpture conference and is now president of International Arts and Artists. "It's a work that will hold its own wherever it is. And if you think about it -- sculpture is something that's a community marker in many place -- and this will certainly continue to be that."
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