I had the pleasure of recently collaborating with an old childhood acquaintance and artist extraordinaire Vincent DeFelice.
Vince is well known for his magnificent bronze work throughout the city, and in collections throughout the country. One of his works is displayed in none other than the Papal apartment in the Vatican.
Aside from the Pope and all things sacred, he is also known for his work with Zombies. Vince is the production designer for many film projects, including the Z Nation series that is filmed here in Spokane. In between his work with the undead, and his artistry in bronze and other mediums, he was recently commissioned to design a new, more traditional marble altar and ambo (think lectern or podium) for St.Thomas More Catholic church, and called his old friend, yours truly, to bring his vision into reality. A five and a half ton reality.
With his design finalized, a with the financial blessing of the parish, it was my turn to play l’artigiano and begin the process of sourcing material and fabricating the project.
Not wanting to get too extravagant with the stone, the church settled on a more standard grade of Carrara marble, Bianco Carrara D in this case, as opposed to the budget breaking Statuario or Calacatta from the same region.
The stone was quarried from the Cava di Fantiscritti quarry, in the Miseglia basin near the quaint little village of Colonnata. This is the same quarry that unearthed the raw block for the statue of David over five hundred years ago. And if it was good enough for Michelangelo, well…
Having connections with some of Italy’s best factories made it easy to acquire my list of custom sized slabs, all cut in sequence from a single, hand selected block. Having these personal relationships put me at the front of the line, and soon the expertly sourced material was crossing the Atlantic from our friends in Carrara.
At 3300 pounds each, the three inch thick slabs presented immediate problems, as they exceeded the weight limit of some of our overhead cranes and vacuum lifters. Only after cutting the stone down to manageable sizes, having transported them with forklifts and old school straps, were we able to move them around the shop in our normal fashion.
Just as we started the fabrication stage of the project, an unfortunate series of events, from major machinery and employee issues, including one of our installers breaking their leg, put our schedule into a tailspin for several weeks. During this time, the more traditional hand techniques required for this project became an asset, as they didn’t rely on our otherwise sophisticated digital methods and workforce currently scrambling to keep the business from unraveling during this perfect storm of misfortune.
With the fabrication of the altar and ambo now complete, it was time to transport it to the church for installation.
The installation presented serious challenges, starting with the question “how do we get an eighty-four inch forklift through an eighty-three inch door”? With some creative maneuvering and deflating the tires, we were able to clear the doors by less than an eighth of an inch, which led to the next question “how to we place 1500 pound slabs when the forklift can only get within fifteen feet of the installation area”? Let’s just say “not easy” and leave it at that.
Vince’s design utilizes clean lines with a simple, understated elegance, just like the man himself. It was an honor to work with an artist of his caliber on such a rewarding project, and he and I have already discussed future artistic collaborations that I’m very much looking forward to. He also says I have an open invitation to be a zombie film extra if I fancy the need. But with the intense few weeks I’ve just had, being a zombie may be a foregone conclusion.
The consecration of the altar turned out to be a pretty big deal, with the Bishop flying in to perform the ritual to a full house, including ceremonial knights in full regalia.
Now that I think about it, perhaps the knights were just there to protect the Bishop from zombies 🙂
Learn more about the artist at www.vincentdefelice.com and see the finished project at St.Thomas More Catholic church, 505 St.Thomas More Way, Spokane, WA.