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A Glimpse of Artistry

California sculptor in town to create a work of art in Fair Oaks.

An 18-ton piece of Italian marble sits at the intersection of the Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive, and drivers are getting a free look at a public art exhibit as it’s being created.

A sculptor is hand-carving the marble on the street corner as part of the Camden Property Trust’s commitment to public art, said Charlotte Schillaci, of Camden’s corporate office. Camden, the developer building the apartments on the property where the sculpture stands, narrowed down their search for an artist to a sculptor who has worked throughout Europe and the United States with fine Italian marble.

“As part of a proffered art requirement for public art, Camden selected renowned sculptor John Fisher to create a sculpture to commemorate the historical relevance of the area,” said Nat Barganier, vice president of development for Camden Property Trust.

The shape of the sculpture is of a horse’s head. Since the Camden Monument Place development is being built near the site of the Civil War Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill), a horse seemed like a logical choice, said Fisher, who lives in Northern California.

Fisher’s method of operation is working on site, so passersby can get a glimpse of his creation during the carving process. He takes his time, working up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, until the work of art is completed.

“Carving on location is relatively unique,” said Fisher, covered in the dust and debris from his work-in-progress. “My whole sort of gig is that I do it on location.”

ABOUT $90,000 is financing the project, said Fisher. That includes Fisher's fee and travel expenses, which were not cheap. He hand-picked a 25-ton block of fine Italian marble in Italy last March. The Carrara marble, named for the city from which it is derived, is the finest in the world, said Fisher. About 70 percent of the world’s supply of marble comes from that region, he said. Since Fisher has lived and worked in the Carrara area for nearly 20 years, he knows the marble well. He was particularly excited about the mark it will leave on the Fairfax community for years to come.

“This project has taken up a half year of my life,” said Fisher. “Yet, I leave something in Fairfax that will last for thousands of years.”

While Fisher cannot predict what future developers might do, he said the solid base that the marble was mounted on would last through just about anything.

“We mounted it on that base in such a way that it will be hard to ever move it,” he said.

Fisher spent two months in Italy roughing out the shape of the sculpture in order to reduce the weight and size enough for shipping. Once it was down to about 18 tons, it was loaded on a ship and sent to the U.S. via the Port of Baltimore. It arrived in Fairfax on Sept. 1. Coincidentally, that was the same day that the Civil War battle began on the site in 1862.

Since construction on the apartments experienced some delays, not enough time was available to construct a sidewalk that would have allowed people to get a closer view of the work. Instead, Fisher works and hopes that drivers can at least see what he’s up to, without any accidents, of course. For the next two months, he will be carving on that corner from dawn until dusk until he is finished. The white marble horse will eventually have a sitting area nearby, and should stand out against the red brick backdrop of the building behind.

Paul Bennett, Fisher’s agent and “right hand man,” is also on-site with him daily. Bennett takes pictures to update Fisher’s Web site [www.fisheroppenheimer.com] and he makes sure that Fisher eats lunch and takes breaks. Bennett said he too wishes the sidewalks would have allowed for a better viewing platform, since past projects have involved the community. In a California sculpting project, teachers brought classes to the site on field trips.

“The teachers actually integrated this into the curriculum,” said Bennett. “They see the evolution of it all.”

Fisher earned an award for the best public art project in the state that year. In other locations, he said benches have been put in so people can sit and watch him work. With or without the viewing areas, Fisher said he is going to work, he just hopes people can benefit from it as they have in other cities.

“Hopefully, people will be able to see it,” said Fisher. “In passing, maybe they’ll catch a glimpse of it.”