A blending of mediums

May 1, 2006
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Visitors approaching Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, CT, are greeted by a life-sized bronze Torosaurus statue, created by Peabody Museum Preparator Michael Anderson and a team of paleontologists, zoologists, artists and volunteers. The 21-foot statue sits atop a 95-ton base of Stony Creek granite, which was designed by sculptor Darrell Petit.


Visitors approaching Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, CT, are now greeted by a striking figure on the building's east side - a life-sized bronze Torosaurus statue, created by Peabody Museum Preparator Michael Anderson and a team of paleontologists, zoologists, artists and volunteers. The 21-foot statue sits atop a 95-ton base of Stony Creek granite, and the stone's raw and distinguished form was sculpted through a combination of natural geology and the resourcefulness of sculptor Darrell Petit.

The granite base is comprised of three separate elements that come together to form the whole, and the stone's raw form reflects the natural processes that created it millions of years ago.

The granite base is comprised of three separate elements that come together to form the whole. The base allows the Torosaurus to tower above visitors at a height of two stories, and the stone's form reflects the natural processes that created it millions of years ago.

“[The Peabody Museum staff] approached me with a 12-inch-high Styrofoam model of what they wanted for the base element and asked if it would be possible. They were looking for a large triangular shape that protruded out dramatically like a ship's prow,” Petit explained. “I wanted to first see if the form existed within the quarry formation and if we could attain it by quarrying around it. It took one year to find the spot in the Level 7 sector of the quarry that would yield the right shape. The original model was more of a simple geometric wedge. We quickly educated Michael Anderson in the creative possibilities within the quarry process itself, and then we proceeded to go for it.”

One of the goals for the project was to retain the natural feel of the base, and to make sure it would not appear as a manufactured, processed pedestal. The only element of the base that reveals human intervention is the back. “We knew that it would accommodate a plaque, so we used a wire saw and then had it sandblasted,” Petit said.

Extracting the stone

From the beginning, one of the goals for the project was to retain the raw natural beauty of freshly excavated granite of the base, and to make sure it would not appear as a manufactured, processed pedestal. “It is a sculpture composed of two elements - the dinosaur and the sublime force of nature,” Petit said. “We didn't want to tame one to be subservient to the other.”

“I wanted to first see if the form existed within the quarry formation and if we could attain it by quarrying around it,” explained Petit. “It took one year to find the spot in the Level 7 sector of the quarry that would yield the right shape.”

When extracting the stone for the project, Petit and the quarry workers used the natural beds and seams within the quarry. “We didn't want any industrial markings at all. For me, this was a precedent project that I wanted to be involved with,” Petit said. “The foreman at the Stony Creek quarry, Rick Atkinson, also wanted to get involved. He has worked in this quarry his whole life, and he knew it could be done. Tommy Hixon was also involved at the quarry level. They allowed me to go through the process of exploration to find the right shape within the formation. We saw a primary bed and primary seam in the quarry, and we did exploration of that while also extracting blocks [for the regular quarry operations of Granicor, which has the dimensional stone extraction rights to the quarry.] We didn't affect the production schedule at all. We worked within the process.”

The front of the base resembles a ship's prow, and the shape of the top granite piece complements the shape of the Torosaurus' head.

The original block extracted for the Torosaurus base was 350 tons, and it was scaled down by Petit at an area adjacent to the quarry site, a process that took a total of three months. In some areas of the base where material was removed, the surface was flame finished to provide a smooth transition with the natural texture of the stone. “I used a custom made Lutz quarry torch,” Petit said. “I wanted to maintain the quarry process to keep the rawness of the stone intact. Sometimes people say to me, 'Well, what have you actually done to the stone?' That's a compliment to me, because I wanted to leave it raw.”

The three pieces of the base were fitted with 4-inch-thick steel lugs, and they were lifted using a 250-ton crane. Each piece was lifted on three points, and each of the points could be moved independently --- similar to the way a “Sicilian string puppet” is maneuvered from above, Petit explained.

At the top of the base, 1:1-scale models of the Torosaurus feet were used so Petit could understand exactly how the dinosaur would be positioned on top, how the stone would merge with the statue, and most importantly, how the feet were anchored to the stone.

The only element of the base that reveals human intervention is the back, which faces the small strip of land between the statue and the museum itself. “We knew that it would accommodate a plaque, so we used a wire saw and then had it sandblasted,” he said.

Photos copyright Anita Soos. Throughout the project, Marino Crane was responsible for the engineering, rigging, logistics and transportation.

Transport and assembly

The three pieces of the base were fitted with 4-inch-thick steel lifting lugs, and they were lifted using a 250-ton crane. Each piece was lifted on three points, and each of the points could be moved independently - similar to the way a “Sicilian string puppet” is maneuvered from above, Petit explained. “We needed to be able to maneuver this way because each piece had to fit perfectly; every convex or concave angle of each piece needed to fit with the angle on the connecting piece. Marino Crane was instrumental in rigging and moving the three elements, and they also got involved in the engineering. We really wanted to save the natural form of the stone, and we didn't want the edges damaged. Marino Crane utilized a three-dimensional modeling program to ascertain the center of gravity of each element and to determine the exact picking points so pieces could be picked.”

Photos copyright Anita Soos. The base had to be further worked by Petit after it was delivered to the site. “For me, it was a precedent project that I wanted to be involved with,” Petit said of his work on the venture.

Marino Crane, which is based in Middletown, CT, was responsible for the engineering, rigging, logistics and transportation throughout the project. Fortunately, because Petit broke down the original 350-ton quarry ledge into three “puzzle” pieces with weights of 20, 25 and 45 tons, all of the elements for the project fit within the transportation limits for travel between the Stony Creek Quarry and the Yale campus, a distance of 20 miles.

Once at the site, a major concern was spreading the load properly, and the site had to be prepared to accommodate the weight of the statue and base, since there was infrastructure underneath.

Photos copyright Anita Soos.

The Torosaurus Project was dedicated in the Fall of 2005, and a park area will be created around the sculpture this year, contributing to an educational geological rock garden park to be created along Whitney Avenue, one of Yale University's main thoroughfares. “You don't see large-scale urban sculpture like this much anymore,” Petit said. “It really projects longevity and permanence. They wanted a sculpture that would meet with the mission of the museum. And with people continually walking and driving by, the hope is that people will ultimately say, 'Meet me at the dinosaur.' “

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