Last Thursday, the art world lost a monumental figure with the passing of Walter De Maria. For many of us at Zahner, the news comes as a personal loss, having worked with the artist on a permanent art installation entitled One Sun/34 Moons at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Our relationship with Walter de Maria began in August 2001 in New York City. I was in Tribeca overseeing the installation of the Issey Miyake sculpture when I received a call from Steven Holl Architects regarding another potential project. Steven Holl was building a new addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and they were working with Walter De Maria to create an iconic permanent installation as its centerpiece.
I was invited to meet the artist at his East Village studio, an imposing old power substation that housed his studies, works in progress, and upcoming artworks. At the time, I was not aware of Walter De Maria’s work, or his celebrated status within the arts community, I was just dropping in on a potential client.
I was warmly received by Walter, a grandfatherly figure, soft spoken, but with great clarity of vision for the project.
Over the next several months we went back and forth on the details of the piece, materials, finishes, sending samples to him from our Headquarters in Kansas City. The scale and siting of the sculpture presented enormous challenges, but through it all Walter maintained an uplifting attitude and inspired confidence in everyone around him. Walter had an easy demeanor and warm generosity that everyone benefited from during the course of the project.
The biggest testament to his character during the project was the fierce dedication of his team. Elizabeth Childress, who manages his studio, Michael Kellough, who provided technical expertise, and Bill Gauthier and Deborah Bigelow from American Burnish, whose team hand-applied the gilt finish of the sculpture. At every step there was a feeling of teamwork and purpose, and we knew that we were contributing to something very special. It is an honor to have been a part of the project. It was a pleasure getting to know Walter, and our hearts are with those closest to him.