Moving An Obelisk – 9/29/2009
Michelle Gallagher Roberts, Chief Registrar
At 5:30 a.m. on a hot and humid August morning, I stood on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It was time to bring home Fritz Scholder’s Obelisk, which had been on loan to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for the past year. NMAI had borrowed this 15-1/2 foot sculpture from the New Mexico Museum of Art in order supplement their exhibition, Fritz Scholder: Indian Not Indian. It’s very common for museums to borrow works owned by other museums and from private individuals in order to create exhibitions. It is one of the jobs of the registrar to implement these loans.
In this case that meant flying to Washington, D.C. to oversee the installation and the deinstallation of Scholder’s Obelisk. Weighing in at 1500 lbs., this sculpture required a lot of careful planning and skilled people to move it across country. Cranes were required at both ends of the move, as well as specially-trained art movers. Working in D.C. on the Mall required additional considerations. We had to close one of the streets, which is why we had to start so early, not to mention unsuccessfully trying to beat the heat of the day.
After taking over 5 hours to remove the sculpture from the concrete pad where it had been secured and pack it in a custom crate, Obelisk started its 36 hour ride to Santa Fe. I flew back to Santa Fe the next day in order to meet the truck on the other end. Since Santa Fe streets are as difficult to traverse as those in Washington, D.C. it was another early morning for me. The installation at the Museum took just under two hours. Obelisk is now back home in the West Sculpture Garden where it should stay for many years to come.
Interesting facts about Scholder’s Obelisk:
- After unsuccessfully trying to buy an Egyptian obelisk, Fritz Scholder decided to create his own.
- The hieroglyphics inscribed on the side were randomly placed there by Fritz Scholder. The only “real” words are the names of Fritz and his then-wife Ramona. Scholder had their names translated into hieroglyphics while in Egypt.
- There is a cat image on Obelisk representing Scholder’s cat at the time.
- Obelisk was cast in 1987 at the Santa Fe Art Foundry.
- Of the six cast, the Museum’s Obelisk is the only one owned by a public institution.
- The sculpture is hollow.
- The sculpture was cast in five pieces that were welded together.
Deinstallation on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Installation in the West Sculpture Garden, New Mexico Museum of Art, in Santa Fe