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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Museum of Art technical director Brian Williamson, left, and executive director Charles Shepard examine the sculpture. The work was badly damaged by an out-of-control truck early Sunday.

Righting a toppled icon

Repairs to prized sculpture could run $300,000 – and take a year

Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Museum of Art registrar Leah Reeder takes photos Monday of the damage to Mark di Suvero’s stainless steel and painted steel sculpture Helmholtz. The work was struck by a truck and knocked over early Sunday.
Fort Wayne Museum of Art executive director Charles Shepard talks about the future of the painted steel sculpture, which has greeted museum visitors for a quarter-century.

– It could take hundreds of thousands of dollars and a year or more of repairs before visitors can have a picnic or take a family photo near the Helmholtz sculpture at Freimann Square, the Fort Wayne Museum of Arts executive director said Monday.

“I would tell you it’s the most dramatic and shocking art incident I’ve ever seen in a 25-plus-year career,” Charles Shepard said. “ … This kind of thing is unheard of. Public art doesn’t usually get anything than a little shot of spray paint.”

Shepard said the damage was the most serious the museum had ever experienced – and was especially shocking because it was one of its most significant pieces.

“I would have guessed this was the safest spot in the world for something of this magnitude … absolutely safe, but not so,” he said. “I never would have guessed when I got the call that the truck dented it, but stopped. I never would have believed the power would be there to knock the sculpture down.”

Early Sunday, Colton Adamonis was traveling in a 2013 GMC Sierra truck at high speed on Barr Street when he crossed the intersection at Main Street, continued into the drive on the west side of the museum and drove up and over the sidewalk, police said.

Adamonis, 23, missed a nearby tree, but continued into the 8- to 10-ton steel structure, striking the leg closest to the exterior wall of the museum.

The piece of steel went through the front of his truck and became wedged in the hood, said Scott Tarr, the museum’s director of security.

The truck’s air bags deployed and the driver fled the truck and began running toward Superior Street, Tarr said.

Adamonis was arrested shortly afterward. At the time of the crash, he had a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent, police said.

The Helmholtz, made of stainless and painted steel, was created by artist Mark di Suvero in 1985.

Amanda Martin, deputy director for the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, said the sculpture was created specifically for Fort Wayne to commemorate the city as the Magnet Wire Capital of the World.

The steel sculpture was commissioned in 1983 by Rea Magnet Wire Co. to celebrate its 50th anniversary in Fort Wayne.

It is named after 19th-century German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, who worked in the field of magnets.

Shepard said he spoke with di Suvero, 79, on Sunday and sent photos to him Monday so he could begin to plan for repairs.

“The artist is totally in shock about it ... although he’s thinking ‘all right, we’ll get together and see how we can fix this stuff,’ ” Shepard said.

Di Suvero is expected to make a trip to Fort Wayne to see the piece, but might send his own team first to review the damage, Shepard said.

Shepard said the restoration will begin with the installation of a chain-link fence for safety. In a few weeks, the sculpture will be removed and the damage will be closely examined to determine what can be salvaged.

Even pieces that appear to be OK will be stress-tested to help ensure there is no recurrence, he added.

On Monday, the museum’s technical team inspected the piece, but their report was bleak, Shepard said.

“There was some glimmer of hope for a moment or two that maybe we could prop things up and bending them back into place, but no, (the damage is) too extensive,” he said.

The restoration is expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000. Shepard said the museum’s insurance company, the Huntington T. Block Agency Inc., would be in talks with the driver’s insurance agent to determine whether part, or all, of the cost would be covered.

While the sculpture is being repaired, museum officials and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department will discuss whether a concrete wall might be installed to prevent something like Sunday’s crash from recurring, Shepard said.

“We’ll return (Helmholtz) to it’s glory,” he said. “It will rise from this state and look beautiful again, but it’s not going to happen fast.”

jcrothers@jg.net

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