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Currently on the Boardwalk



Is it a bird? Is it a sail? Nope, it's Following Current Events, Eureka boardwalk's new dynamic sculpture, sitting in its own pond of water next to the Madaket ticket office at the C Street dock. The pond isn't just a design element; it's what makes this sculpture dynamic. The water is the means of propulsion. Twin jets from a recirculating half-horsepower pump spin 10 stainless steel vanes at the base of the 25-foot tall sculpture. "I wanted to create a work of art which people could see from all angles," says artist and gallery owner Jack Sewell. "Since most people don't usually walk all around a sculpture, I created the next best thing: a piece that spins while they stand still."

As already discussed in the Journal ("Sum of the Parts," May 3), the main element of the sculpture is a squashed ellipse, an endless 5-inch-wide by 5/16-inch-thick strip of polished stainless steel which gives the viewer the sense of a sail at sea, reinforced by the water at the base.

Spinning the "sail" proved to be more of a problem than Sewell and his collaborator, local mechanical guru Peter Portugal, had anticipated. They originally designed the 850-pound moving structure to pivot on its steel foundation post using an industrial 6,000-pound-capacity, double sealed-bearing hub. Sounds good ... except it barely moved when the pump was first turned on. They devised four independent solutions to solve the problem.

1. The shape of the pond turned out to be critical, since the force of the jets has to be channeled into the vanes, not dissipated into the surrounding water. So the concrete subcontractors reshaped the pond to create a deeper, smaller bowl (which actually matched the original design).

2. Sewell and Portugal added a lower bearing -- five nylon wheels -- to supplement the main bearing, to help stabilize the heavy sail.

3. Despite Sewell's best efforts when constructing Following Current Events, it didn't balance perfectly in no-wind conditions. By the time you read this, he will have bolted about 240 pounds of lead to the base of the structure, similar to balancing an auto wheel by adding weights to the rim.

4. Sounds obvious, yet ...the two filters in the pump housing can clog up! This was especially the case at the time of installation. Now they need cleaning only occasionally.

The idea was to create a dynamic, yet low-maintenance, sculpture that would reflect its location on the bay. Other than powering the pump, the moving sculpture requires no more looking after than a typical static work of art. "It's all stainless steel, with aluminum birds, so it should never corrode or deteriorate. Come back in 100 years, it'll still be turning," promises Sewell.

Barry Evans ( admires Sewell's "art meets science" creation on his daily perambulation of the boardwalk. (Gotta get those 10K steps a day.)

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