By Dale Johnson
Installed June 28, 2013
On the front side, Cyclops, the blacksmith of the Greek Titans, brings creativity to the world, hammering and forging through the veil that separates the gods from humans. This blinds and mutes him. As he both pushes and pulls the veil away, a Sea Monster drawn from the maps of the Age of Exploration partially squeezes through--but only partially. The Sea Monster is one of three of the mythological creatures featured in the sculpture to exist in both the front and the back view. An arm reaches behind the veil and disappears. An Alien from outer space looks out inquisitively, free of the veil. Cerberus calmly and resignedly watches as a Mongolian Death Worm tries to sneak through from this side to the Other Side, blindly thrashing. The Spirits in the forest watch over and guard the Leprechauns lounging in the clearing and counting their gold.
On the back side, the arm is seen to be the gloved arm of Arthur, pulling Excalibur from the stone. In so doing, he releases Ulysses, weary from his odyssey. The Man in the Moon watches languidly over the scene as a screaming banshee rises from behind a tense and watchful Cerberus. A staircase descends into Cerberus' chest, and ends at a nearly closed door. The Alien seems to have turned his head in the stone, and is still looking at the viewer, curiously. The Sea Monster is struggling to get all the way through to the Other Side, and a mischievous young Dionysus whispers secrets to the timeless and imperturbable head of an African Mask.
The Library asked me to create a sculpture for the new Reading Garden, giving me complete artistic freedom so long as I worked in my established style and material, limestone, and based my work on the theme “mythological creatures.” To prepare a sketch of my intent, I searched my bookshelf for a book that would serve as a model, eventually selecting a 1938 Harvard Classics edition of Elizabethan Drama, which contains plays by Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. This book would provide the border detail and the binding structure for the piece, framing a mix of creatures drawn from imagination and fantasy.
The original block for the sculpture measured 12” x 6'-8 1/2” x 4'-9”and weighed 4,830 pounds when I picked it up from the quarry/fabricator in Ellettsville, Indiana (luckily, my forklift is rated for 5,000 pounds). It was not weighed after I carved it, but I estimate it to be about half its original weight. I picked it up in January of 2013, and began by carving the book shape and spine details with the slab lying flat on my workstands. After I had flipped it over and finished the details on both sides, I drew the main structure of the front view. The composition was a fast sketch, finished in minutes, but I had been thinking about it for weeks, and the main structure of the carving didn't deviate from the composition so much as refine and clarify it. I knew I would be piercing the slab and carving fully through, but I chose to carve the vast majority of the front view while the slab was still flat so I could do as much of the work as possible at a comfortable working height. The negative space around the figure I pushed as close to through as I could without actually going through (so I wouldn't bias the composition I was planning for the back view). In early April, I drilled the mounting holes in the bottom, and stood the slab upright to begin working on the back side and the details of the front.