One of the world's oldest art forms is utilizing some of the latest industrial-engineering technology to recreate the long-lost architectural pinnacle of the historic state Capitol.
A team of design engineers last week set up scaffolding around the state's popular, imposing, winged "Genius of Connecticut," a nearly 18-foot-tall, 129-year-old plaster statue inside the Capitol's first floor.
They took millions of measurements, using three-dimensional laser scanners, and will develop computer-assisted plans and molds for a new, bronze version of the artwork that topped the Capitol for 70 years, before it was loosened from its bolts in the infamous hurricane of 1938.
The historic, 6,600-pound sculpture, created by Randolph Rogers, a Rome-based American, to symbolize the "protector" of the state of Connecticut, was ordered melted down for World War II munitions by Gov. Robert A. Hurley, a Bridgeport Democrat, in 1942.
Connecticut was left with the full-size, but fragile 1,200-pound plaster model of the work, which has been on display in the Capitol since its opening in 1878 and reinforcement in the early 1970s. Now, a New York state art foundry will painstakingly recreate it, right down to the individual feathers in the wings and the oak leaves in the crown around her head.
The new, bronze version of the "Genius," could be back on top of the dome, guarding the spirit of Connecticut, within a year, said Eric Connery, facilities administrator for the Capitol complex.
During the 2005 legislative session, lawmakers led by Speaker of the House James A. Amann, D-Milford, announced support for the return of a new "Genius" to the gold-leafed Capitol dome. The lawmakers budgeted $330,000 for the effort, which was to recreate the "Genius" in a durable poly resin statue weighing a ton.
But engineers later said that such an artwork could not withstand the high winds that sweep the Capitol and could literally send the "Genius" flying off the dome.
"The engineers then told us the statue needs to be as heavy as possible," Connery said last week.
So the plans were revised and the budget was increased another $360,000, which has yet to be approved in the proposed state bonding package that is pending before the General Assembly in its current special session. Without more funding, the project stops once the molds are made, Connery said.
The House of Representatives has tentatively scheduled a session for Sept. 10 to approve a bond package. Back in 1878, the bronze statue and the plaster model cost the state a total of $14,000. Majority Democrats and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell remain at odds over the total of long-term funding, but the plans for pouring sections of the statue in bronze and then welding them together will move forward. The work stalled early last week when a team of movers, contracted to pull the "Genius" away from a wall inside the north entrance of the Capitol, was unable to do it. The plaster statute was eventually given a bronze finish and cemented to a waist-high marble block when it was moved from under the dome's 257-foot-high rotunda to the north side in 1988.
The industrial engineers from the Direct Dimensions Inc., an Owings Mills, Md.-based high-tech company, were able to find a hydraulic lift narrow enough to fit behind the "Genius" to take precise, laser-guided calculations along every inch of the statute.
The accuracy of each measurement, called a point, is within the thickness of a human hair.
"We collect millions and millions of points very quickly that measure the contour of the surface very accurately," Abramson said, adding that the latest technology they're using is less than a month old. One night last week the team marked more than 16 million points on about 20 percent of the statue, he said.
The points on the statue's surface are converted into data for Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and appear on the design computers as three-dimensional sections of the statue.
"Our job is to capture the form and detail of this accurately, build it into a 3-D CAD model, which is a virtual model that has the dimensions built into it, then take that data to manufacture a replica," he said. "Three years ago, this just couldn't be done."
The team, subcontractors for the Tavern Rock, N.Y.-based Polich Tallix LLC fine-art foundry, worked late into the night several days last week, using powerful laptop computers and the still-emerging technology to record surfaces of the "Genius" that will be used for the molds.
Harry Abramson, director of the art division of Direct Dimensions, which has contracts with the defense industry, including the manufacture of submarines at Electric Boat in Groton, said that different parts of the "Genius" will warrant different types of designs for molds, depending on the resolution.
"To cut all the detail all you see in the wreaths and the crown will be very expensive, so we'll go ahead and rapid prototype those very high-detail areas, which will provide us a really solid, high-detail model for those pieces," he said. "The rest, all this body here and the wings, will be milled out of foam."
Abramson's engineering squad will complete its work over the next four months. "There will be a lot of head scratching, you know, how are we going to cut this up digitally to make the pieces?" he said. "How are we going to make this so it'll look perfect?" There may be as many as 25 "puzzle" pieces when it comes to melting ingots of silicone bronze at 2,000 degrees to create the parts of the new statue in the foundry, near Newburgh, N.Y.
Marissa Lomonaco, project manager for Polich Tallix, said in the Capitol that the process of creating bronze statues dates thousands of years.
"It goes back to ancient Greece, ancient Rome," Lomonaco said. "There have been very technological advances that have made it easier for us now, but it's pretty much the same process — that's been around for a very long time." The process may be even more appropriate for the "Genius," which was done in the style of an ancient-Roman copy of a Greek Daemon, a protective spirit guarding over a person, group, or in this case, state.
Different sections of the eventual rubber molds will be fit together with a series of registration marks and keys. The rubber mold will be put inside plaster to keep it sturdy, then a layer of wax about three sixteenth of an inch thick will be sprayed into the molds to create a hollow replica.
"It's a lot of negative and positive reversals, so once we have the wax positive again, that gets pieced together and we finish where the seams were, where the mold sections came out and put it together assemble it, then cut it apart again for casting," Lomonaco said.
A ceramic mold is then fired, including pipes to assure an even flow of the bronze, heated to 2,000 degrees, evenly into each part. When the pieces are cooled, the ceramic shell is broken, leaving pieces of the statue that will then be welded together.
That should be done over the next eight months, Lomonaco said, adding that the new statue will weigh about 4,000 pounds.
The foundry, which started in 1970, specializes in art and architectural work and current projects include huge bronze doors in a wavy pattern for the Harry Winston jewelry store chain.
"Before we pour the metal, according to the square footage we'll calculate how many pounds of bronze we're going to need to pour each piece," she said. "We're just really excited to do this project and work with Connecticut and make her beautiful in metal."
Th original statue was affected by high winds as far back as 1903, when loose bolts were first noticed, then tightened and the statue held in place, high above the capital city, until the 1938 storm. Then its head was cut away and the rest of the statue was taken down in sections, then Gov. Hurley decided to make melting it down a public-relations maneuver for the early home-front effort of World War II.
Rogers, the sculptor named the original piece "The Angel of the Resurrection" with her open arms presenting the state flower, Mountain Laurel in her left hand and the Immortalis flowers in her right hand signaling long life. It was renamed "The Genius of Connecticut." Visitors to the Capitol from Germany have said the statue is similar to one that stands in a famous Munich square, where it is called "Bavaria" in honor of that region of the country. That piece is 60-feet tall and was finished in 1850 in the same foundry where the Rogers piece was cast. Jill Cromwell, director of the daily Capitol tours, said last week that a recent survey among the thousands of fourth-graders who visit the Capitol each year found that the "Genius" is among the most-popular sites, along with the Nathan Hale statue and the soaring rotunda.
"When we talk about the Genius, it gives us a chance to talk about the history of Connecticut, the patriotism in the war effort when it was melted down and now, about art and history as we explain about the new statute that'll be made," Cromwell said.
Michael J. Cardin, a former Democratic state representative from Tolland, a history teacher and Capitol expert who was the chief proponent of the 2005 legislation, said last week that the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism deserves credit for keeping the project moving in a positive direction.
"I'm so excited that it's on track in terms of getting done," he said in a phone interview. "I was a little surprised with the bronze, but that's why it was important to get the architectural specialists in the process. I'm still looking forward to the day the crane lifts the Genius back into place."
"The Genius of Connecticut is a very meaningful treasure of our state's history, not dissimilar to the Liberty Bell on a national level, and its preservation is an important part of keeping our heritage alive," Amann said last week.
"The Genius legend denotes her as a guardian spirit watching over and protecting its citizenry," Amann said. "I imagine it will make her job a lot easier when she is finally returned to her rightful perch atop the Capitol."
Some photos of the genius are on this page (looks more like a busy Nike to me ... then again, genii seem to be portrayed that way in more recent art ... not sure when the idea of a genius changed from this sort of thing)