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Landmark St. Louis sculpture being recreated

Saturday, January 21, 2012 | 4:26 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — While it wasn't as recognizable as the Gateway Arch, the huge sculpture carved into the brick facade of the building known as Council Tower in midtown St. Louis had become a local landmark because of its visibility from Interstate 64.

But in recent years, the sculpture slowly disintegrated, starting with bricks falling off the east side of the building in 2007. Decay became so severe that workers had to remove the entire face last year, exposing the concrete beneath.

That eyesore is nearly a thing of the past. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports craftsmen are nearly finished with a painstaking re-creation of the sculpture, part of a $40 million renovation of the low-income senior housing complex.

Workers who made the sculpture designed by Saunders Schultz when the building went up more than 40 years ago used hammers and chisel. Now, craftsmen with John J. Smith Masonry Co. are using battery-powered grinders and drills to replicate the 260-foot sculpture, working from two platforms attached to hoists bolted to the building.

In 1969 and 1970, Schultz "called it his canvas," said Tim Sheahan, project supervisor for contractor E.M. Harris Construction. From a tiny platform, he worked a floor or so above the brick masons. As progress on the facade crept up the building, craftsmen followed his sketches for the work he named "Finite-Infinite," chipping and cutting the brick in the prescribed ways to produce the required contours and curvilinear shapes.

Schultz said "Finite-Infinite" alludes to the Arch, which the building faces more than two miles to the east, and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting in which God and Adam almost touch.

Masonry company owner John Smith said his workers uncovered Schultz's sketches on the concrete wall beneath the original brick and are following his design.

Smith said the new sculpture "is exactly the same scale and exactly the same dimensions" as the original.

Sculpting the brick will be completed this week. After that, workers will add a penetrating brick stain much like the original. That could happen next week.

Schultz, now 84, is a consultant for the project. He said his role this time is a lot easier.

"For close to two years that was the scariest thing I had ever done," he said. "I'm working now from the ground."

The new "Finite-Infinite" will be fully illuminated at night, unlike the old one. HOK, the St. Louis-based architecture firm, designed banks of lights for the renovation.

 


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