project for Belgium’s 150th anniversary
In 1980 sculptor Olivier Strebelle requested that I come to Brussels to help him with a project celebrating Belgium’s 150th anniversary of independence. (I had been a student of Strebellle when he was a visiting professor at the University of Iowa and had subsequently assisted him in his Brussels studio.) There was to be a summer-long parade of eighteen canal boats (one for each of the nine nations in the European Economic Community and one for each of Belgium’s nine provinces) traveling throughout the country on its extensive network of waterways.
Strebelle had been commissioned to decorate the barge for province of Namur, whose symbol was “Le Cheval Bayard et les Quatre Fils Aymon”—a mighty stallion leaping across the Meuse River carrying the four sons of the king on their way to battle Charlemagne. The province wanted its barge to portray this legend, but there were two problems: at the scale proposed,
“Le Cheval” would be too tall to pass underneath the numerous low bridges that cross the canals and, if lowered, would be too long to fit between the bulkheads in the boat’s hold.
Strebelle (a fanatic hang-glider) had envisioned a structure of metal tubing clad with panels of Dacron. My main task was to design an armature for a structure that met these challenges—a framework for a sculpture that represented a horse and four riders and which could be raised and lowered, stretched out and shortened.
As part of a summer-long, water-borne parade celebrating Belgium‘s l50th anniversary of independence, a canal boat was fitted with a representation of a mythical horse (“Le Cheval Bayard”) leaping high in the sky, carrying four sons of the legendary King Aymon.
This sculpture, some 45 feet long when fully extended and nearly as high, was built of stainless steel tubing clothed in a suit of brightly-colored Dacron. The horse and its supporting tower had to be collapsible because of low bridges over the canals. The sculpture folded up and descended into the barge’s hold and then rose up again and unfolded when the obstruction was cleared. My principal job was designing the armature and supervising its construction.