Sculptor’s work incorporates social experience

by Jordan Green

With an adult guardian keeping a watchful eye from a bench nearby in the shade the three children play around the Millennium Gate, the brass sculpture erected at Governmental Plaza under the supervision of metal artist Jim Gallucci that recognizes the myriad developments from 1000 through 1999 that shaped life as we know it in Greensboro.

Panels on all four sides of the arched columns tell the story of a thousand years. So does the mesh screen of images that hangs between them: the visages of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, a skull next to the engraved word INFLUENZA, a map of the United States with lines and road signs to symbolize the interstate highway system.

The children peek at each other from behind the icons. One of the boys grasps the metal to test its strength. Another steps back from the sculpture and jabs his finger in the air toward the Wright Brothers biplane protruding from the screen.

‘“Airplane,’” he declares.

Stroll down February One Place, jog around the News & Record building (itself a stop on the Gallucci downtown Greensboro sculpture tour), head up Church Street to the downtown public library, and the Oracle Bench comes into view. One of many ‘“whisper’” benches designed by Gallucci, the steel pieces are notable for their tangle of tubing with flared rims at each end, inviting sender and receiver to engage in auditory communication.

Presley Ward, an artist himself, strolls up and takes a seat, placing a sketchbook on the bench at either side. One is filled with cubist abstract drawings and renderings of nudes; another contains his personal writings.

‘“I just got back from Virginia,’” he says. ‘“I’m working on a short story. I’m planning on being at the library for the next month.’”

As public art Jim Gallucci’s work crops up all over Greensboro, from the entrance gate at First Horizon Park that incorporates a horizontal baseball bat to the sleek black cross outside St. Pius X Catholic Church and the imposing green three-story Southern Gateway at Crumley and Associates law firm where Highway 220 segues into Freeman Mill Road bringing Randolph County commuters into Greensboro.

Gallucci’s vision ‘— harnessing a large-scale metallurgical enterprise that currently employs five assistants and requiring a studio in Interstate Industrial Park near Pleasant Garden so spacious it could be mistaken for a small factory ‘— stresses inclusion, multiplicity of human experience and collectivity.

The Rochester, NY, native, a barrel-chested sparkplug-man with craftsman’s hands, conveys an irrepressible stream of anecdotes and reflections in his patter of speech.

‘“[National Public Radio host] Scott Simon was down here for the unveiling of the Millennium Gate,’” Gallucci says. ‘“He wanted to know why we included the fork. I said, ‘Scott, before the seventeen hundreds we ate with knives.’ I find it easier to eat with a fork, cutting my tongue less.

‘“You have George Preddy, the World War II pilot,’” he continues. ‘“When he was killed that really affected a lot of people in Greensboro’…. Edward R. Murrow, the famous broadcast journalist, he’s from here’…. There’s a couple panels on World War II. That really made us a distribution center. The steam engine ‘— that allowed us to develop the cotton gin.’”

Then he comes to a subject that is one of his great passions.

‘“If we’d done it in 2001 we would have had to include the World Trade Center, don’t you think?’”

Gallucci’s Sept. 11 sculpture, unveiled on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, remains a work in progress. After several exhibition stops across the country, the sculpture is currently on display at Elon University. Metal platforms with bolts and seams exposed attest to its unfinished condition. Battered iron beams follow the columns part way up, and brass sheets spill from its height recalling the office paper that fluttered from the sky for most of the day after the twin towers collapsed.

Lying on the platform below are sheets that recall the handwritten notes grieving New Yorkers wrote to call out to and lift up their missing family members that popped up on light poles all across the city in the days after the attack. About 30 in all have been affixed to the platform. The artist solicited them from people all over the country. Many are poems written by school children.’”

A poem ‘“What 9-11 did?’” written by Tyler Wimberly, age 12, reads: ‘“It shocked/ It scared/ It frightened/ It stunned/ It killed/ It destroyed/ But most of all it joined us.’”

‘“It was the most tragic day of our lives,’” Gallucci says. ‘“It was maybe the most heroic day in our history. Everybody stopped for three days. I remember there were people driving up from Texas with truckloads of socks. Generosity is part of our American spirit. That’s our real weapon. You don’t squelch that. We were probably the most united country with the rest of the world after that happened.’”

Battered sections of iron salvaged from the World Trade Center lie in the yard next to the studio, waiting to be added. Some 300 personal expressions need to be converted to brass plates, a process that requires volunteer artists to faithfully etch each word and scribble, spelling errors included. Gallucci would like to collect 2,600 more personal expressions. He estimates the project will cost $700,000 to complete.

‘“My uncle was an iron worker,’” the artist says. ‘“He knew guys that worked on the World Trade Center. I remember going inside in 1971 or 1972. Probably to watch it fall was as traumatic as it gets.’”