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Man of steel arrives at Championship Plaza

Work underway on plaza's hockey player statue

Tuesday, 08.18.2009 / 12:21 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Man of steel arrives at Championship Plaza

Jon Krawczyk working on his hockey player statue at Championship Plaza.

newjerseydevils.com – A 3,000-mile journey that began nearly a year ago reached its end Monday morning at Prudential Center.

The 22-foot, 6,000-lb. stainless steel hockey player statue that will be a focal point of Prudential Center’s Championship Plaza was installed late Monday afternoon by sculptor Jon Krawczyk and two assistants.

Armed with welding tools and a pair of fork lifts, the threesome endured searing summer heat to assemble and raise the statue, which stands near the corner of Mulberry and Market streets in downtown Newark.

The statue awaited the addition of its right leg on Tuesday.
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The installation fulfills a months-long effort that has been three years in the making.

“When I heard the Devils were building a new arena, being a huge Devils fan, I thought a player taking a slapshot would be perfect,” Krawczyk, 39, said. “You'd have all this motion with something happening, instead of just a player standing there.”

The New Jersey native completed the eight-month project in March 2008 and drove cross-country to the Garden State from his Malibu studio in four days last August. Since then, the piece had been waiting in a Boonton Township parking lot.

Now the wait is finally over.

“It’s nice to finally get this thing done and up,” he said.

The statue’s faceted exterior is designed to resemble blocks of ice, which would have provided welcome relief for the plaza’s workers during this week’s heat wave. The mercury climbed into the 90s on Monday with no signs of cooling for Tuesday, when the forecast called for a high of 92 degrees.

“Especially with the stainless steel-look with the grind marks, it gives it the look that ice has when it breaks, and you get an almost diamond quality,” he said. “I wanted to do something where you had that movement, and with lights nearby, the statue changes as you move around it. I wanted to have as much motion in it as possible, with it still being a solid sculpture. I think the size is what overwhelms you.”

With the massive head and body strapped to a flatbed trailer behind a double cab pick-up truck, Krawczyk made a stop at Wal-Mart for some bottled water and Gatorade on his way into Newark. He didn’t have any luck finding the wide-brimmed gardening hats the crew had hoped to use to battle the blistering sun.

“The problem is the reflection,” he said, staring into the statue’s glare through a pair of dark gray Oakleys.

Some cosmetic touch-ups were needed before the installation could get underway.

“There’s no corrosion on it, but I never put a finish on it,” he said. “I never put the finishing touches on it when I shipped it out because I knew I’d have to do some work on it here, and I didn’t want to mess it up on the way across (the country).”
 
Krawczyk, who follows the Devils from his home in California, took a red-eye flight from the West Coast last week to check on the hardware that was used to hold the statue’s stand in place.

The sculpture arrived in sections. Krawczyk started by attaching the 250-lb. head, a process that was complicated by weather and limited space in which to maneuver the lifts. The next step, slated for Tuesday afternoon, was to connect the right leg that extends backward in follow through. A hockey stick will complete the piece on Wednesday.  

Without any shade, the steel heated up to the point that Krawczyk said he could feel it through the soles of his work boots as he climbed up onto the shoulder.

“If we had some eggs, we could make lunch,” he said with the metal underneath him hot enough to cook on.

Championship Plaza will also feature a 60-ft. in-ground granite Devils logo and a recreation of Prudential’s Rock of Gibraltar logo. Construction began last month and a ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for late September. Fans can own a piece of the plaza by purchasing commemorative bricks that will ring both the statue and the logo.

The defending Atlantic Division-champion Devils host the Philadelphia Flyers to open the 2009-10 regular season on Oct. 3.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Devils’ Co-Owner Michael Gilfillan as he surveyed the progress of his fellow Delbarton alumnus. “It’s hard to believe it’s actually on the site right now. It’s amazing.”

Gilfillan said the statue should be visible from as far away as Newark’s Penn Station. Sealed inside, some Devils history: a puck and cap from Prudential Center’s opening night in 2007, and a Scott Stevens jersey donated by Gilfillan to “bring us good luck.”

“It’s really going to be a landmark,” he said. “You talk about the bat at the old Yankee Stadium and places to meet people, and everyone’s going to say, ‘Meet me at the sculpture.’”

The sight of Krawczyk’s forklifts lifting the shimmering statue was enough to stop Larry Emery in his tracks as he walked home along Market St. on Monday afternoon.

“I’ve been watching them work on (the plaza), but to put something like that up there, that’s just great,” said Emery, headmaster of Newark Boys Chorus School. “Public art is just such an amazing thing to see in the city."

Emery, a Newark resident since 1973 who lives across the street from the plaza site, believes the new construction represents an important shift in Newark’s rapidly changing downtown area. Though he said there’s no accounting for individual tastes, Emery welcomes the dialogue that will be inspired by Krawczyk’s piece.

“There should always be controversy about public art,” he said. “If everybody loved it then what would it all be about? You want those talking points; you want people to say ‘Hey did you see what’s happening on the corner of Market and Mulberry?’ Some people will say, ‘Yeah, isn’t it marvelous,’ some people might say, ‘No, I don’t like it.’ But that’s great.”

Emery had a message for passersby too busy to pause for a closer look at Newark’s man of steel.

“Take a little bit of ownership in your city,” he said. “When you get committed about things like that, you have a little more vested interest in your city.”

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