Volunteers shrugged off 7 inches of new snow and a stiff wind that made near-whiteout conditions on Point Woronzof Road to set up a sprawling outdoor art installation titled "100Stone."
At 9 a.m. Saturday, three dozen people were busy with shovels and snowblowers clearing a path to the beach below the Point Woronzof Park parking lot, adjusting rebar stakes and setting up tripod hoists to lift dozens of human statues into position along the shore of Cook Inlet.
Conceived by Anchorage artist Sarah Davies, "100Stone" uses forms taken from body casts of people affected by mental illness over the past two years. Davies, who has suffered from acute depression herself, said she hoped the installation would lead viewers to a realization of how many people struggle with various forms of mental illness and perhaps provide a sense of release from the loneliness that sufferers often feel.
Originally planned for the mudflats at the mouth of Fish Creek, the project was moved to its current site to address issues of permission and access when the time comes to remove the statues next year. The approval process required permits from seven different government agencies, ranging from the Army Corps of Engineers to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Davies had wanted 100 statues, but only 85 were built before dwindling daylight and tide schedules dictated they go into place at this time.
Artist, volunteers plan to rebuild installation damaged by Cook Inlet tides and wind
The statues were moved downhill from the parking lot on trailers attached to four-wheel drive "side by side" utility vehicles. For the last and steepest part of the slope they were transferred to hand-pulled sleds. Once on the beach, they were fixed in place by rebar stakes driven 3 feet into the ground that extended upward into a leg or torso of the statue.
In their final arrangement, 74 figures lined the beach. Eleven others were up the hill near the parking lot. They made a surreal sight. A frozen procession of assorted humanity ranging from the elderly to children crowded onto a narrow band between cliffs and the relentless sea. Mute witnesses to the emotional desolation that, left untreated, isolates and suffocates.
Most of the figures -- but not all -- faced the water in positions that reflect despondency or despair. Some were paired as clutching parent-and-child compositions. One statue of a man, who appeared barely able to stand under his own grief, was posed trying fruitlessly to help raise another who had sunk in the ground up to his chest.
Davies said the title of the exhibit referred to the sense of an insufferable weight felt by many people affected by depression. She said getting effective treatment was like having the weight removed.
Work began before sunrise, when the tide was at low ebb. Far from shore, a river of ice flowed into Knik Arm with the speed of a bicycle, between five and 10 feet per second. As the statues were installed, the water moved closer, rising four feet every hour. The snow ceased over much of Anchorage as the sun came up, but stubbornly continued at the park. Jumbo jets carrying cargo from Asia were heard in the dark clouds above the water long before they appeared in the landing pattern. They rumbled over the heads of the volunteers who slogged through the mushy snow and wrestled with the statues.
The volunteers on the site were other artists or ordinary citizens from various backgrounds. But, importantly, the team also included building professionals from J.D. Steel and Whalen Construction. Hats and vests identified several workers as members of local trade unions, Ironworkers 751 and Laborers 341, donating their time and expertise. Their hands-on contribution was a big reason why the installation went smoothly and gracefully, Davies said. She called the crew "an army of rock stars."
Most figures were in place by noon, well before the tide reached the lowest-placed statues.
A swell on Cook Inlet rhythmically splashed dark waves onto the floes left along the shore by the last high tide, rocking ice chunks the size of cars back and forth, flooding the space between snow-flocked bergs with muddy swirls. The vast, kinetic churn of ice and ocean made a sound like drums and presented an animated and threatening contrast to the small, motionless human forms that appeared hopelessly locked in place. At 1:10 p.m. the first near-freezing water, thick with mud, sloshed around the legs of the lowest statue, a figure of a woman looking toward the sky, her arms hanging at her side.
Davies, who had gone to the refreshment station at the top of hill to get something warm to drink, was heading back down to the beach, cup in hand. She has worked on the project for the past year.
"I have to see this," she said. "There aren't that many opportunities to realize a vision."
High tide came at 3:08 p.m. About half the pieces were partially or entirely submerged. It's expected that the water will reach most of those higher on the beach at some time in the coming weeks. How they fare in the elements before being removed, between Feb. 27 and April 30 next year, is anyone's guess.
At 4 p.m. the snow had stopped and the setting sun cast a orange and purple glow on the scene. The river of ice began moving back toward Fire Island and the tide receded. Figures emerged from the water at different angles than they'd been set, leaning, turned around. Some were buried up to their necks in broken ice.
"I'm actually pleased with the way they're repositioning themselves," Davies said.
One had pitched forward about 45 degrees, as if falling. The water had washed the frost from everything below his ears, but didn't quite cover the top of his head, leaving a little crown of snow.
It looked like a white halo.
A public "opening event" for the installation will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at Point Woronzof Park.