Sculpted animals for the Waco Sculpture Zoo are beginning to trickle in, but they’ll have to wait before being released to the wild — or, actually, the viewing public.

The first Sculpture Zoo pieces were set to be installed in October, but installation has been delayed by unanticipated preparation work needed for the concrete base. Project planners did not have a firm timeline for the installation but said those involved in the project are working to complete it as soon as possible.

The vision for the project has expanded from five or six sculptures near Cameron Park Zoo. But with a surge of private donations underwriting almost all of the approved designs, the project was expanded to 28 sculptures planted along University Parks Drive to Washington Avenue.

That territory lies within the Brazos River floodplain, which is regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The project hit a snag when planners realized how much engineering work the federal agencies would require for constructing the sculptures in the floodplain, said Waco senior park planner Tom Balk.

Noah may have built a flood-proof ark for his animals, but FEMA rules require them — sculptural ones, at least — to be firmly anchored to the ground and not add to the possibility of flooding, as determined by a certified engineer.

Those requirements were complicated further by FEMA’s recent adjustments to its 100-year flood map for the area. Balk noted that the last major public sculpture project in Waco, “Branding the Brazos” with its herd of bronze Longhorn cattle and three trail drivers in Indian Spring Park, preceded the current FEMA requirements. They are located on ground higher and farther from the Brazos River than some of the zoo animal sculptures.

The planned animal sculptures cover a variety of species — elephants, lions, reptiles, birds, giraffes, apes and more — each with different sizes, weights and balance points.

The drilling for soil samples at different sites was conducted last week, and city spokesman Larry Holze updated the city council in last Tuesday’s work session. Structural engineer Jim Winton will take those analyses and, coupled with technical data on each sculpture’s size, weight and material, design appropriate bases, Balk said.

The package of completed pad designs then will be put up for bid with council approval required if the total exceeds $50,000. That’s a possibility, given that the scale of the initial project has nearly quadrupled, he said.

The current work to meet updated standards for construction within the Lake Brazos corridor will benefit future projects, Balk said.

“This helps us lay out a road map to the future,” Balk said, adding, “A lot of credit needs to be given to Creative Waco, particularly (director) Fiona Bond and (sculpture zoo project manager) Barbara Allinbloom, for the work they’ve done on this. They’ve been extremely patient parties in this process.”

Creative Waco, which is coordinating the Waco Zoo Sculpture project, informed artists of the delay, starting with calls by Allinbloom two months ago with follow-up emails for artists who needed additional information. Almost all artists contacted were understanding about the installation delay, Bond said, and some noted they had faced similar issues in other cities.

The delays won’t affect the payment for most of the artists, she said, with checks sent at the beginning of their work, a second on demonstrated completion and the final check on arrival of the sculpture in Waco. She noted, however, that the payment to Waco artist Bryant Stanton, whose Mexican fruit bats kinetic sculpture depends on its base for completion, would need to be adapted accordingly.

Two sculptures have already arrived with a third anticipated next week and the city will store incoming works until they can be installed on their pads.

Some pieces will stay with their creators until they can be installed. That’s the option Stanton, owner of Stanton Studios, says he’ll pursue with his work, which stretches nearly 30 feet tall and moves with the breeze.

“We’re finishing our sculpture and plan to display it at our studio until the city has completed a pad prepared for it,” he said.

Waco sculptor and Baylor University art professor Robbie Barber is putting the finishing touches on his 19-foot-giraffe built from stainless steel tubing in his studio and shop off North Speegleville Road.

The installation delay brought a measure of good news for the artist, he said, providing more time to complete his work. Barber’s forte is crafting new work from found objects he discovers in rural junkyards and yard sales — he even has a World War II German V-2 rocket motor stored up for a future piece — and building a steel giraffe from the ground up took him into new territory.

That creative territory involved months of work shaped by proposed steel tariffs, steel-rolling dies, metal bending, welding decisions and Chinese-crafted stainless steel spheres.

Like Stanton, Barber may choose to keep his sculpture until its installation rather than move it first to city storage. As long as the hitch in the Sculpture Zoo timeline doesn’t adversely affect artists’ payment, he’s not overly concerned with the delay. “I’ve been doing sculpture for about 30 years and things like this happen,” he said.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor

Recommended for you