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Afternoon 'Clay Party' Rounds Out Historic Sculpture Model

By Hoag Levins ...| ...Jan. 12, 2003

Also see: More Photos From Hadrosaurus 'Clay Day'

HADDONFIELD, N.J. -- More than 100 children and adults crowded into a local barn yesterday afternoon to take part in the skinning of Haddonfield's dinosaur.

The barn is the studio of sculptor John Giannotti, who is creating
Photo: Hoag Levins
Butch Brees (tan shirt), Neal Rochford (brown coat) and others work clay onto model. Click for larger photo.
the eight-foot-high, one-ton bronze statue of Hadrosaurus foulkii scheduled for installation in the downtown business district on October 18 of this year.

The "skin" consisted of thousands of gobs of orange clay that enthusiastic participants kneaded soft and then pressed into the heavy mesh that forms the superstructure of the sculpture model.

One goal of the afternoon's laying on of clay was to complete a crucial phase of the construction project that is on a tight deadline schedule. A second goal was to offer interested community members an opportunity for a hands-on role in the physical creation of the statue destined to become a major regional landmark.

$100,000 project
"It is so exciting to see the dinosaur literally taking shape in this size," said Beverly Aldeghi, co-chair of the HATCH dinosaur sculpture committee that organized the $100,000 sculpture garden fundraising effort to commemorate the borough's historic fossil. She was one of a handful of Haddonfield Garden Club members who, several years ago, came up with the idea of a dinosaur sculpture garden for Lantern Lane.

Dug from a local marl pit in 1858, Hadrosaurus foulkii is New Jersey's official state fossil and
Photo: Hoag Levins
Volunteers of all ages helped create the outer surface.
a major milestone in the history of dinosaur discovery.

Aldeghi was the first of more than one hundred volunteers to arrive at the barn behind a rambling Victorian mansion on West End Avenue on a bitter cold day. But the century-old structure whose walls were hung with the artist's paintings and sculptural prototypes was warmed cozy by portable heaters.

Squeezed tightly beneath a slanted roof in the front of the wooden building, the Hadrosaurus-under-construction stood as a hulking profile of iron pipe, welded armatures, wooden slats and blobs of expanding foam covered with thick wire screen.

Excited volunteers
Volunteers -- many of them as obviously excited as they were young -- watched as Giannotti sliced off thick wads of warm clay and put it into their hands. Five hundred pounds of the soft orange material was stored in a specially heated plywood locker.

The artist also gave a quick lesson on how to get the clay pressed safely and securely into the irregular surface of the model. Volunteers were offered latex gloves to cover their hands but some declined. "I just really like to
Photo: Hoag Levins
Working on the model that is built something like a wooden canoe covered with metal mesh are Beverly and Jonathan Aldeghi.
get my fingers into this stuff," explained one grinning adult.

"What we're really doing here is the same thing a plasterer does when he puts the first rough coat on a wall," explained the artist, who is the retired former head of the Fine Arts Department of Rutgers University. "Today all the volunteers are setting up the rough surface of the model. Later, I'll come back with a blow torch to heat the surface to about 100 degrees so I can trowel and unify it before I actually start building it out from there."

In all, Giannotti expects to use about 750 pounds of clay -- all of it donated to the project by Chavant Inc. The Monmouth County company markets 30 types of modeling clays for school art classes, the automotive design industry, police forensics labs and professional sculptors.

Clay for dinosaurs
Hadrosaurus foulkii is not Chavant's first dinosaur project. In fact, along with various museum projects, the company's modeling materials are used by the special effects companies that created various dinosaurs for the movie, Jurassic Park.

"I read about this Haddonfield Hadrosaurus project. My
Photo: Hoag Levins
Once the work was done, the model began to look more like a dinosaur in its own skin. Here, volunteers put finishing touches on the beast's tail.
father still lives here in town and we thought it would be good to help out," said Jack North, an executive of Chavant.

Curiously, the product known as "clay" actually isn't any more, he explained. "Most people still think modeling clay is something you dig out of the ground. It isn't. Today it's a synthetic substance that is a blend of waxes, oils, fillers and different types of pigments."

Next phase
The next phase of the HATCH undertaking will be Giannotti's sculpting of the muscular features and actual skin texture of the extinct animal. He pointed out that this process isn't about guess work -- paleontologists have excavated at least one good-sized piece of fossilized Hadrosaurus skin. Cut from a magazine, a picture of that specimen is tacked to a nearby wall.

Once the full surface sculpting is complete, the molding process will be started which, Giannotti pointed out, will be somewhat complicated by the tight confines of his barn.

Sectional molds will be completed of the entire figure, then used for the rest of the process that will ultimately create the molds used by the bronze foundry to cast the prehistoric beast in metal.

Will never leave barn
Strangely, the full-sized sculpture that will be completed in Giannotti's barn studio will never go anywhere. After the final molds and bronze casting are completed, it will no longer be needed.

But what does one do with a a soft-clay working model of a 14-foot long dinosaur?

"I have no idea," said Giannotti.

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