By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — A flock of giant-size metal sculpted birds that local artist Dale Rogers put on public display never took flight, although the 200-pound birds with 12-foot wingspans appeared to soar gracefully before landing Rogers a $20,000 prize in this year’s ArtPrize competition.
Suspended from cables attached to mounting poles set at various heights, the hefty shore bird sculptures captured the attention of the public as well as judges in the biggest art competition in the country. ArtPrize was held Sept. 19 to Oct. 7 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Rogers’ exhibit, titled “Flight,” won for the best use of Urban Space, one of the five exclusive Juried Awards selected by renowned art critics of the world. The display also listed in the Top 25 of the event’s popular vote.
“I’ve entered other competitions, but this is by far the biggest I’ve been in,” Rogers said. “And it’s the biggest prize I’ve won.”
“Flight” featured nine stainless steel birds weighing over 200 pounds each and having 12-foot wingspans. They were arranged in a serpentine layout with each bird mounted at varying heights in Ah-Nab-Awen Park in Grand Rapids. The scenic park was once the site of a Native American village.
Rogers is best known locally for his large iconic American Dog on Interstate 495 near the Ward Hill Connector, and his Big Dog Show exhibit that was on display in Bradford Common.
ArtPrize refers to itself as a “radically open competition and social experiment,” Rogers said.
Although the top prize was $250,000 for Best of Show, Rogers, 40, was thrilled with the prize he won.
“It was really the best award I could have received,” Rogers said. “As an outdoor metal sculptor, and where my work is evolving into large scale exhibitions, the best use of urban space was the most meaningful award to me. It recognized my ability to put on a large sculpture exhibition in an urban environment with high visibility and low impact on its surroundings.”
Rogers had entered the competition before.
In 2010, he brought his Big Dog show to Grand Rapids for ArtPrize, but it didn’t generate much in the way of popular votes by members of the public who visited the display. He said the Big Dog Show was an area of the city that didn’t generate much foot traffic.
Last year it was Monkeys on a Bridge, a display of 100 metal sculpted monkeys that literally hung from a bridge in downtown Grand Rapids. But instead of competing, Rogers decided to present his monkeys as part of a fundraiser.
“We partnered with the Michigan Humane Society and we raised more than $10,000 for them through the sale of monkeys, which we sold for $1,000 each during the exhibition” Rogers said.
Rogers wasn’t planning to be in this year’s show, until the curator of Ah-Nab-Awen Park contacted him early this spring to say the area was available to him if he wanted to enter the competition.
“I knew that it would be perfect for this kind of exhibition as they have seagulls and other birds flying through that area, including water fowl,” Rogers said. He decided on nine birds, an uneven number. But something went wrong during the design process and his birds ended up weighing far more than he’d planned.
“When I was designing the project on paper and with a computer markup of birds they had a six-foot wingspan and three-foot body, which would have been easy to manage,” he said. “We built the prototype, which we could lift with relative ease and move around as it was only 50 pounds.”
That’s where things got confusing, Rogers said, as he intended to double the size of the prototype model thinking it would weigh about 100 pounds.
“The way it worked out, it became four times in volume and 200 pounds and when it was finished I just couldn’t lift it up,” he said about the first full size bird he created for this year’s “Flight” display.
“As this was a temporary exhibition for the country’s biggest art competition, I thought it would be a simple installation with the use of rope and tackle, but we ended up having to rent some heavy equipment to mount them onto their supports for the exhibition,” he said.
His stainless steel shore birds were suspended in air by cables attached to their supports.
“They had some motion in the air, but not much as having a lot of motion isn’t a good thing as people want to test the limits of how far things can move,” he said.
Rogers figures it cost him about $60,000 to build and display the birds, including materials, travel and installation.
He said his “Flight” exhibit will continue to travel and is available to cities and museums who wish to bring it to their space.
To learn more about Rogers and his work, visit online at dalerogersstudio.com. Visit YouTube and search for Dale Rogers and “Flight’ to see him building one of his bird sculptures.