In Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Hurricane Sandy cut an early ‘ribbon’ on stainless steel sculpture
January 2013 - In the days just before Hurricane Sandy plowed into eastern Pennsylvania, a team of artists and fabricators installed a 27-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Nestled between King’s College and the river at River Common park, the sculpture, called The Ribbon, was shrouded in a tarp to be removed at an official unveiling the following week.
But, as artist Mark Boyer Dryfoos says, Sandy had a different plan.
“She crashed into town, destroyed the tarp and gave the city an early look,” he says. The Ribbon was rewrapped and unveiled days later without the 60 mph wind.
The Ribbon, weighing about 2 tons, has a U-shaped base with two tapering spires evoking the winds that battered it as much as its metalwork. Commissioned by the Luzerne Foundation, a local philanthropy, the 304 stainless steel Ribbon is the focal point of a riverfront plaza in Wilkes-Barre’s front yard.
Dryfoos first created a sketch, then translated it into models. “I created four or five small sculptures of the ribbon 6 inches high made out of metal wire and sheeted with silver duct tape,” he says.
Originally, six months were budgeted for the project, but because of engineering hurdles, it took two years, says Dryfoos, who designed the sculpture. The first fabricator, Don Campbell, realized he didn’t have the equipment or space to handle the project.
It was then that Dryfoos got in touch with Ray Preby, owner of Apple Street Welding & Manufacturing.
“Ray’s knowledge of welding and metals combined with my years of training as an artist proved a wonderful team in recreating my dream in large scale,” Dryfoos says.
Although The Ribbon appears as a solid curved whisp of stainless, it’s composed of 1/4-inch-thick, 3-inch-wide flat strips welded over a ladder form and ground to a smooth finish. The welded beads are ground down, giving the spires’ surface a subtle ripple. Four-inch-thick solid stainless steel makes up the teardrop shaped lower portion to support the spires, each twisting into a helix halfway up. But the project wasn’t easy to form, says Preby.
Dryfoos’ initial design had the sculpture’s height between 12 and 14 feet, but after creating a mockup, the team realized it wasn’t going to be tall enough. The team experimented with a Ribbon closer to 20 feet. It ended up being 27 feet to finish properly, but Apple Street Welding only had a 20-ft. ceiling. Unable to stand it up inside, The Ribbon was fabricated in sections and finally assembled outside.
“The area it sits in is a large open space; it’s about right,” says Preby. “The proportions are really nice.”
At the midpoint of the spires, Preby wasn’t sure if he could finish the job because of a challenge presented by getting flat pieces of stainless to follow a helix pattern. “We were stuck for a couple of months,” he says.
That’s when he decided to weld the flat strips along the spires diagonally. He’d twist and manipulate them into place, tack them with a MIG welder, then TIG weld them with a stainless steel bead with the spire lying down.
“The hardest part in making it was to get it to look good from every angle,” he says. “I had to allow for warpage because stainless is a very high warping material.”
On the inside of the teardrop (U-shaped base) is a detailed diamond pattern that’s raised to keep it from collecting water and becoming a birdbath. The entire fabrication sits upon a 10-inch-diameter section of stainless pipe that sits inside a 12-inch pipe. Inside is a bearing assembly upon which The Ribbon can be rotated or tilted, depending on how Dryfoos wanted to orient it. Plus, because the entire sculpture and its base are stainless steel, it’ll resist damage from the Susquehanna River if it floods.
Aside from fabrication road bumps, Dryfoos says the hardest question is when people ask him what was his inspiration.
“The Ribbon is about my view of love and loss,” he says, referring to his father’s battle with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. He sees it as a marker for the Wilkes-Barre community, to inspire those who look upon it. “The spires are two entities, ideas or beings that are together, then pulled apart by something beyond their control.”
Similarly, Preby says The Ribbon appeals to emotion—the twisting spires—and the rational—the geometric shapes and design at the bottom of the U-shaped saddle.
“It’s very emotionally satisfying to have helped create this permanent, lifetime sculpture.” MM