The Art Tatum Celebration Column in Toledo, Ohio, the most expensive piece of public art ever installed in that city, was dedicated on September 11, 2009. The column was conceived, designed and built by Cork Marcheschi, a San Francisco public artist and sculptor with a 33-year career in public art, who has gained international renown for his use of energy and light in large public projects as well as in his unique fine art pieces, inspired originally by the Dada movement.
The dedication of the 30 foot tall glass and steel sculpture came as the culmination, for Cork Marcheschi, of a two-year project which began with a competition in 2007, and a concept which was a departure from the usual idea of a memorial sculpture of a great man. Cork Marcheschi, is himself a professional musician and a long-term fan of the Toledo born jazz piano genius Art Tatum (1909-1956) who, despite his near blindness, astonished his contemporaries and future musicians with his extraordinary and sometimes avant-garde, virtuoso playing.
However, the history of the memorial to one of Toledo's greatest musicians goes back much further. Patricia Levey, who chaired the Art Tatum Memorial Committee which involved managing a community outreach, a design review committee, fundraising, and communication with the artist throughout the project culminating with the installation and dedication of the sculpture, explains that the discussion about an Art Tatum Memorial began in the Toledo community more than fifteen years ago and the committee was actively organized six years ago. The city's Public Art Program is managed by the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo whose executive director, Marc Folk, manages a very talented staff. Adam Russell, public art coordinator at the time of the Tatum project, worked directly with Cork Marcheschi in Toledo.
Cork Marcheschi's love for jazz was genuinely evident from the moment he proposed his design for our review, says Ms. Levey. He captured all of us with his belief that his sculpture was ideal for the Art Tatum Memorial. The committee voted unanimously for his design."
To Cork Marcheschi the memorial was a labor of love - he really went in to win that competition. The Art Tatum piece was very special for me because of my love of music, he says. Tatum also represents the outsider who came to music though his own unique experience. He was blind and learned to play piano by feeling the keys being depressed on his mom's piano. He didn't realize that many of the pieces he learned to play this way were duets."
I like situations where unlikely circumstances turn into ideal situations, he adds. The piece is a simple design based on a keyboard but a twisted keyboard. The warping of the keyboard is a direct representation of Art Tatum's incomparable ability to bend the piano."
The 30 foot column consists of 88 ivory and black powder-coated stainless steel keys each separated from the next by three-quarter inch plate glass through which shines a blue light, created by the 400 high-intensity, long-lasting LEDs, each about a square inch with a 180 spread of light.
The sculpture, built by Cork Marcheschi and his colleagues Steven Baker and Reid Johnston at the sculptor's San Francisco studio, was assembled by a 5-man crew at the new Lucas County Multipurpose Arena in Toledo. $200, 000 of the $300, 000 project was paid for by Toledo's 32 year-old One Percent for Art" program in which 1 is set aside for public art for every $1 spent by Toledo on construction. The remaining $100, 000 came from donations, among which those of George Chapman, CEO of Health Care REIT, and KeyBank and were at the top of the list.
Pat Levey says, Working with Cork was flawless. His immediate response to our questions, his understanding of the delay due to fundraising challenges in a difficult economy, his ability to coordinate the engineering details with the plaza architect and our public arts coordinator and his patient, intelligent and perceptive style allowed the project to move forward with ease. He and his team engineered the installation precisely, and we are fortunate to have a Cork Marcheschi sculpture in our Toledo public art collection. I also am pleased to refer to Cork as a friend."
Two more sculptures, Fan-fare by Janine S. Ody-Miller and RE-surgence by Sayaka Ganz, Greg Mueller and Steve Williams are planned for the Arena and are expected to be dedicated in the fall of 2010. Already the Art Tatum Column, has, according to Pat Levey, Become an icon both by day and night in the plaza of the Lucas County Multipurpose Arena. It is often photographed when news of sports or musical events are planned for the arena. It is a constant reminder, through the vision of Cork Marcheschi, of the musical culture that jazz legend Art Tatum presented to Toledo."
Cork Marcheschi has had very favorable feedback to the sculpture from both the city of Toledo and Art Tatum's relatives.