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.