A 6-foot model of a 21-story bronze monument planned for the Osage Hills northwest of downtown Tulsa should be finished soon, according to the artist working on the project.
Osage artist and Edmond resident Shan Gray said even though the privately funded monument--a planned 217-foot bronze sculpture called "The American" featuring an American Indian warrior with a bald eagle perched on his arm--was not completed within its originally announced time frame, progress continues to be made. He said a 6-foot model of the sculpture should be completed by mid-summer, providing the first real peek at what the finished product will look like.
The monument was announced in 2004 during the administration of then-Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune, with the mayor touting its value as a tourist and cultural attraction. It was supposed to be finished in time for Oklahoma's centennial celebration in 2007, but construction has yet to begin, leading many observers wondering if the project had been shelved.
Gray insisted last week that this was not the case, though he admitted the economic downturn has delayed the involvement of some major investors.
"We're waiting on a couple of entities," he said. "They want to do it, but they're involved in the oil and gas industry, and they're waiting for things to stabilize a little bit. They say they'll feel a whole lot more comfortable with this when the price of oil stabilizes."
Gray declined to go into the specifics of the project's financing status, but he did say the budget for the monument is between $35 million and $40 million, and that $3.5 million has been spent on it to date. He emphasized he is not seeking new investors.
Gray said a considerable amount of work has been completed on the project, which he described as a major technological challenge. He cited a study completed two and a half years ago by an Oklahoma State University economist as a major boost for the project. The study conducted by Mark Snead, then-director of the Center for Applied Economic Research at OSU's Spears School of Business and now an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Denver, claims the monument would attract between 1.5 million and 2 million visitors a year, Gray said, a number that surprised even him.
But the sculpture's appeal crosses many boundaries, he said.
"The monument is about more than honoring Native Americans," he said. "It's about new beginnings and facing a new day."
Gray said a number of test pours and experiments on the milling process required to build the monument have been completed, each yielding valuable information--sometimes by trial and error. For example, he said during the first test pour, conducted 18 months ago, the mold exploded. Workers later figured out that the sand they mixed with the epoxy had absorbed moisture from a recent rain, and when it was mixed with 2,000-degree bronze, the result was an explosion that shattered the mold.
Gray said 22 people are currently working on the monument, including several from the Tulsa division of The Benham Group, an architectural, engineering and construction management firm. All told, Gray counts 200 "team members" from more than 20 firms who have participated so far.
Much of their time has been spent designing the elevator inside the monument that allows visitors to ride to the top. A stairwell that meets code requirements also needs to be built, and the interior will be able to accommodate up to 50 visitors at any given time, he said.
But there have been other unique challenges, as well, each of which has contributed to delays in getting the project's construction started, according to Gray.
For instance, the monument will have a steel frame covered in bronze plates. Gray said during the summer, the bronze can expand up to 13 inches, while the steel can expand only 2 inches. Designers have had to account for those expansions and ensuing contractions.
"In a way, he's breathing," Gray said of the depicted warrior.
He also said designers believe the monument's chest area is so expansive that, theoretically, clouds could form inside, and it could rain.
Additionally, because of its height, the monument must be topped with a red beacon to warn away aircraft. Gray said the bulb used in the beacon weighs 150 pounds, making its delivery to the required spot problematic. He said designers are trying to solve the problem by creating a rail system to carry the bulb that can be retracted into the eagle.
Once the 6-foot model is complete, Gray said, designers will put it through a wind tunnel test to make sure the full-size version is capable of withstanding sustained, straight-line winds up to 206 mph--the equivalent of an F3 tornado.
Those delays haven't been all bad, Gray said. They have given project organizers time to regroup and tie up loose ends, as well as form partnerships with other entities interested in adding an educational component to the monument.
The project's Web site, www.theamerican.com, was taken offline some time ago, but Gray anticipates that it will be launched again sometime this summer.
Initially, the monument itself was planned for Holmes Peak in Osage County, several miles northwest of downtown. Gray said that site is still under consideration, but a third party has been tasked with obtaining the 160 acres required to build the monument and visitors center that would accompany it and is examining other areas, as well.
He said once construction begins, it should proceed rapidly, with 1,200 workers expected to be involved in its production. The expected build-out is three years.
"My hope is to have the thing completed by 2012," he said, though he cautioned, "A lot of things have to fall into place."
Gray said he understands the doubts many observers have about the project, given the fact that its original deadline already has come and gone.
"But those early estimates were not mine," he said. "They were provided by people (involved with the project) who ... meant well. On a project like this, it's very dangerous to give people timelines. On the other hand, if we had every penny, hey, we're ready to go."
Gray said he has no doubts "The American" will become a reality some day.
"Oh, no, absolutely not," he said. "I know it's going to happen. If there's any question, it's when and where. There are too many good people involved (for it not to happen). I've never questioned the outcome."
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