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Burning Man sculpture rising, with help of Petaluma volunteers

At the corner of East Washington and Copeland Streets, Petaluma artist Kevin Clark is building a 70-foot “Flower Tower” for the Burning Man Playa. And he has lots of help.

Almost every day, Petaluma volunteers of all ages walk behind a bamboo and wire gate at Reared in Steel, LLC. They hammer and shape thousands of metal sunflowers, daisies, butterflies, lilies, chrysanthemums and leaves and shapes they invent to be placed in holes throughout the tower’s frame. When fully assembled, the tower will also be covered in thousands of multicolored LED lights and have 33 flame effects coming from the flowers.

Clark said he got the idea for the arched, modernist piece in Barcelona in September of 2016.

“I was inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s architecture in (the Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Familia). On the way back, I started sketching and came up with the design. It’s drippy, intense and ornate,” Clark said.

Michelle Ramatici, project manager, said the piece also references the 50-year anniversary of San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.” Yi Yang, structural division manager at Summit Engineering in Santa Rosa, approved the engineering for the design.

Reared In Steel received partial funding from Black Rock City Arts, Burning Man’s grant program, but the company needs to raise more money to complete the tower. Reared in Steel is accepting donations and has a crowd funding campaign at Indiegogo.com (search for The Flower Tower).

The Flower Tower looks delicate but is very resilient. The flowers and the arch are made from steel provided by Petaluma supplier Van Bebber Brothers, Inc. The tower, able to withstand 100 mph winds, will be fastened to the Playa with 48-inch ground anchors.

Clark said Reared in Steel will use over 1,000 gallons of propane to enable the sculpture to give several fire shows a night.

“It (the piece) fits the ‘Radical Rituals’ theme for Burning Man this year. I’m sure we’re going to have weddings at the Flower Tower. It’s a good piece to be getting married next to,” Clark said.

Clark’s involvement with Burning Man, the annual late August arts festival in the Nevada desert, goes back nearly 20 years. In recent years, he created the rhino art car and the fire-spewing Medusa head, pieces highly visible to motorists on East Washington Street.

Ramatici said volunteers from age 7 to 94 have come to make flowers.

“Mentor Me, a youth organization here in Petaluma, has brought a lot of kids. We’ve seen students from McKinley and Valley Vista elementary schools too,” Ramatici said.

Clark said more volunteers are needed and welcome.

“Coming up with an idea to open it (a Burning Man project) up to anyone at any skill level has worked out wonderfully. It’s one of the best ideas we’ve ever had. We used to keep the gate shut. Now we open it. People come and then they come back and bring their whole family. Every person who comes in feels invested in the project,” Clark said.

Flower creation occurs through an organized, assembly line-type operation. First, a CNC plasma cutter cuts out shapes for the many different flower designs. After the shapes have cooled off, volunteers transfer them to wooden tables. The tables hold pliers, a metal crimper, hammers and stumps or anvils with shallow depressions.

Next, volunteers put on safety glasses and gloves to pound curves into the shapes. Then they hand-shape the petals, curving them up and in. A volunteer with welding experience in protective gear welds a metal stem to each flower. Finally, the flowers are painted with enamel paint in all colors of the rainbow.

“What I love about Kevin’s project is that we are all invited to make art too,” said volunteer Alexandria Giardino, 49. “It only takes five or 10 minutes to make a beautiful flower. Even my son Nicolas, who is 12, has been here painting flowers.”

Debra Tsouprake, 62, a volunteer, said she enjoys the work because she is passionate about art.

“You create art that people all over the world can connect with in one form or another,” she said. “While doing so you bond with others and become family, connected forever in life.”

Ashley Wacker, a 29-year-old volunteer, said she got involved because she became excited when she attended Burning Man for the first time last year.

“Last year, I more or less observed. Afterwards, I really wanted to be a part of something I could see on the Playa. This year, I am doing more to contribute to the experience for not only me but others,” Wacker said.

Individuals interested in volunteering or donating to the project should contact Michelle Ramatici at michelle@rearedinsteel.com. Flower creation is ongoing until Aug. 15. The Flower Tower’s progress can be seen at www.facebook.com/rearedinsteel/.