August 20, 2017

Last week I joined Anatol and Janine Rychalski for a special 50th anniversary lunch.

By St. Raymond standards, the Rychalskis are new parishioners.They moved from Pittsburgh to Shorewood in 2009 to be closer to Janine’s brother.  When they joined the parish, they quickly became mainstays at the 11:00 a.m. Sunday Mass.  Both natives of Poland, they are engaging and delightful additions to the St. Raymond  community.

But we weren’t celebrating their wedding anniversary--they’ll celebrate 60 years next year.  Rather, we were together to talk about a very unique milestone—the fiftieth anniversary of the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture in Chicago’s Daley Plaza.

As a Senior Designer for American Bridge, Anatol was responsible for the construction of the 50-foot-tall sculpture.

If you have read any of the news stories about this in the last week, you know that getting the project off the ground was quite a production in its own right.  It involved architects, engineers, a world-famous-but-somewhat reclusive artist, private donors and the Mayor of Chicago.  Somehow all of those divergent entities came together to greenlight this huge piece of public art.

Picasso produced a 41-inch maquette or model of the sculpture and shipped that to the U.S. to be scaled up.

That’s when our friend Anatol got involved.  He was named lead on the project, but before he could begin, he needed to get his bosses at the parent company U.S. Steel to sign off on the project.

Understanding that a huge art installation was an unusual project in the mid 1960s  (especially for a steel manufacturer accustomed to more practical projects)  Anatol set out to sell the project.  Rather than risk damaging the original maquette (which is now on display in the Art Institute), Anatol created his own 41-inch maquette and took it on the road. Not surprisingly, with his knowledge of architecture and art and his visionary enthusiasm, Anatol convinced the upper echelon to support the project.  I would love to have heard that pitch.

Back in Chicago, Anatol and his team began scaling up the sculpture.  It wasn’t as simple as multiplying out dimensions.  The sculpture isn’t symmetrical in any way, and as the pieces got bigger, the perspective from the ground had to be taken into account.  They also had to   engineer the pieces to be stable in wind and weather and             accommodate the massive size and weight of the steel without adding distracting supports. 

After successfully building a 12-foot model out of wood, they were ready to build the full-size version.  They selected COR-TEN, a steel alloy produced by U.S. Steel.  COR-TEN patinas to a “rusty” coating that protects the steel from further corrosion.  The material was a pretty radical decision.  Prior to use on the Picasso and the Daley Civic Center, COR-TEN was most prevalently used in railroad cars and railroad tracks.

Anatol had a team of 25-30 men working on this project, and as their leader he felt it was vitally important for the workers to be vested in their work.  Typically, steel workers build steel mills, skyscrapers and bridges—not works of art.  But under Anatol’s leadership “there was a tremendous transformation in the attitude of the steelworkers. Everyone has the soul of an artist; some must dig to find it,” said Anatol.

When the sculpture was completed and sand blasted clean in Gary, the workers brought their families to show off their creation.  “I was proud to understand that every man had depth in his soul.  All the emotion shown by them stayed with me all fifty years,” remarked  Anatol.

The sculpture was then disassembled and transported to Chicago for reassembly in Daley Plaza.   This work was done behind a giant white shroud, generating great anticipation leading up to the unveiling.  On August 15, 1967, with a crowd estimated as much as 50,000 watching, Anatol’s work was on public display with the yank of a rope.

It’s fair to say that reactions were mixed.  Some didn’t understand what the sculpture represented.   Some saw it as a waste of money.  Other complained it was rusty.   When I asked Anatol if the criticisms bothered him, he just shrugged.   He talked about how, in this case, beauty took time.  Over the 50 years, the COR-TEN has settled into a rich, distinctive color, and most Chicagoans have developed great civic pride in “their” Picasso.  (Picasso gifted the statue to the people of Chicago—not the City of Chicago.)

As for what it is?  Anatol and the artist agree on this.  It’s a woman.  It’s just a matter of how you look at her.  Knowing this sculpture so well, Anatol created the illustration at right that shows the woman at her most recognizable angle.  Anatol asserts that “We all ought to rejoice that the Picasso “Steel Woman” will not be destroyed at some distant time because it represents humanity’s love for womanhood.”

Our lunch conversation spanned decades and continents.  The stories told truly deserve a screen play.  Throughout it all, Janine offered her observations and perspective.  These weren’t minor tidbits or facts. Janine’s stories fleshed out the experiences and added depth to the story telling.  It was a joy to witness their partnership.

Before the unveiling, Anatol is quoted saying “I feel sentimentally grateful for the opportunity to do this.  This country has given me the opportunity to do something of lasting value.”

Fifty years later, I asked him is this is the crown jewel of his career.  He smiled and said yes…but then mentioned “the Disney Project.”  Another story for another lunch.

Eileen Hooks Gutierrez
Director of Development and Projects Liaison, 815-722-6653, extension 242

P.S.  This story just goes to show you that you never know who is in the pew beside you.  If you have a unique story, let’s connect!






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