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‘Now It Is Coming Together’: Sculpture Marking Claremont’s 250th Anniversary Taking Shape

  • Ernest Montenegro uses a plasma cutter to carve hand tracings out of steel for a sculpture he's creating at Thermacut in Claremont, N.H., on July 21, 2014, for Claremont's 250th anniversary celebration. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)

    Ernest Montenegro uses a plasma cutter to carve hand tracings out of steel for a sculpture he's creating at Thermacut in Claremont, N.H., on July 21, 2014, for Claremont's 250th anniversary celebration. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)

  • A panel of the sculpture that Ernest Montenegro is creating for Claremont's 250th anniversary celebration sits ready to be welded at Stone House Forge in Claremont, N.H., on July 21, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)

    A panel of the sculpture that Ernest Montenegro is creating for Claremont's 250th anniversary celebration sits ready to be welded at Stone House Forge in Claremont, N.H., on July 21, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)

  • Ernest Montenegro uses a plasma cutter to carve hand tracings out of steel for a sculpture he's creating at Thermacut in Claremont, N.H., on July 21, 2014, for Claremont's 250th anniversary celebration. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)
  • A panel of the sculpture that Ernest Montenegro is creating for Claremont's 250th anniversary celebration sits ready to be welded at Stone House Forge in Claremont, N.H., on July 21, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)

Claremont — When his schedule and the weather allow, sculptor Ernest Montenegro drives over to Thermacut on the Charlestown Road and prepares his work area on the pavement just outside the warehouse door.

He begins by clamping a small, square plate of eighth-inch thick steel to a metal stand. With a plasma cutter in gloved hands, Montenegro leans over and runs the hot flame of the tool along the lines of a hand tracing. In about a minute, he knocks free the cutout and holds up one of hundreds of tracings that will be the centerpiece of an interpretive sculpture that Montenegro designed for the city’s 250th anniversary celebration this fall.

Though he has worked with everything from clay to different metals, this project is different.

“This is all new for me but I’m getting better at plasma cutting,” Montenegro said. “Challenging isn’t really the right word. It is more exciting. It is fun to be coordinating all of these (tracings) and to make this happen.”

The cutouts and “negatives,” or steel plates they were cut from, will be welded to rectangular steel frames and mounted on a 53-foot curved steel structure to complete the sculpture. The sculpture, titled ourhandsthenandnow, symbolizes the hands that built Claremont from its humble beginnings as a farming community through the height of its manufacturing period to today.

Montenegro has finished about 300 cutouts toward a goal of at least 600 and possibly as many as 800. Both the hand cutouts and the negatives are arranged by Montenegro then welded to a frame at Stone House Forge on Thrasher Road.

“It is a random but sort of controlled design,” he said about the overlapping pattern of the hand cutouts that vary in size from those of small children to adults. Only a few of the tracings will be identified by name but all of the names of those whose hands were traced will be part of a registry.

“It is about the anonymity of work,” he said.

Between 11 and 14 cutouts are welded onto each rectangular frame and the 42 frames will be mounted to a main frame of steel tubing.

“It will be all lit from the interior and when the light shines through, these will all look like stars,” Montenegro said.

The sculpture will be completed at Structal-Bridges (Canam Steel), moved onto its base in the visitors’ center park near the pedestrian bridge in early September and dedicated Oct. 26, the anniversary of the signing of the city’s charter in 1764. The 53-foot height was chosen because it is roughly equal to 17.64 yards, a reference to the year of the city’s founding.

Montenegro first envisioned the design late last year and the presented the idea — just a rough sketch on a piece of paper — to the 250th anniversary committee which immediately supported it.

Montenegro said he has been able to turn his idea into something tangible because of the broad support from the community.

“Ed (Stone House Forge owner Leskiewicz) was the first person to say ‘yes,’ ” Montenegro said about the offer from the welding business.

Canam, Rick Mann and Kevin Bonneau at Thermacut, Pine Hill Construction and Whelen Engineering, which is supplying the lights for the sculpture’s interior, are among the 27 companies that have provided some level of support in time, money and materials, Montenegro said.

“The beauty of this whole thing is that the community is doing it,” said Montenegro, watching welder Erik Kainu at Stone House Forge weld the cutouts to the frame.

In February, the committee began collecting hand tracings on sheets of paper from residents at various locations. Committee member Melissa Richmond made copies of all the tracings and Montenegro used a knife to cut out each one by hand. He and his son then randomly selected which ones to trace onto the small steel plates donated by Canam.

“It sounds like it is tedious but in a weird way it is contemplative,” he said about the steps needed to get the steel templates ready.

About five weeks ago, Montenegro began cutting out the tracings with the help of Bill Therrien at Thermacut who provided a crash course in using a plasma cutter.

“It has been more fun (than hard work). In the very beginning it is all abstract; people are abstract. The actuality of getting everything done is abstract but now it is coming together.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com .