Artist Sculpts 500-Year-Old Reedwood at Laumeier
by Kevin Murphy
On a remote patch of ground located at the northern edge of Laumeier Sculpture Park, Austrian artist Johann Feilacher – the sound of his chain saw ripping through the afternoon air – is cutting the final swirls into the most ambitious project of his career.
The sculptor’s medium is a 500-year-old redwood transported to the Laumeier site by truck all the way from northern California. The redwood log measures 33 feet in length, was 9 feet in diameter before work began, and weighs 25 tons. The log was cut from a 250-foot tall redwood that measured 26 feet in diameter. Johann Feilacher, 42, has been working almost every day for four weeks, eight to 10 hours each day, transforming the redwood into an open-air sculpture. All the work is done with chain saws as the redwood rests on its side.
The artist cuts wide, deep swirling patterns into the log while standing on top of it. Hydraulic jacks are used to turn the redwood when a new section is ready to be worked upon. Feilacher, who lives just outside of Vienna, has had help with the size-able project from art students attending Webster University. Just keeping the site clean of sawdust is a time consuming process.
An 83-ton crane hoisted the finished piece on end then lowered it onto its earthquake-safe, concrete base on Tuesday. Feilacher said he will probably title his sculpture „Redwood 1.“ It will remain at Laumeier for at least a year, he said. „This will serve as a monument for a redwood,“ Feilacher said. „Laumeier is a good location for this work. The park has some very good artists represented.“ Feilacher’s medium is wood. An exhibit of his smaller works were on display recently at the Cecille R. Hunt Gallery at Webster University. Feilacher has shown his work in galleries and sculpture parks in Austria, Switzerland, England and the eastern United States.
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„Redwood is a very soft wood,“ Feilacher said. „Because it has so much water in it, it’s hard to get through. You must carry the weight of the chain saw in your hands.“ Feilacher will not use sealants or protective chemicals on the redwood’s surface. Drying, swelling or splitting will continue on „beyond the creative process.“
He said it will be the largest sculpture created by an Austrian in Missouri. Most redwoods are protected in California. Feilacher said he hired a consulting firm to keep an eye out at sawmills for larger trees. The 500-year-old redwood now at Laumeier was discovered at a mill.“ After six months they Chired consultants) called, and I went out to California to take a look at it.“
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