The challenges of working with extremely heavy materials

I must admit- when I first embarked on this project I had no experience working with concrete, mortar, or bathtubs. I had never picked up a bag of mortar or cement. I had certainly never tried lifting a cast iron bathtub. If i had known how heavy they were, I might have been chickened out.  This is almost embarrassing to write, but I had originally envisioned myself working on the concrete and cast iron grottoes in my second floor apartment studio.  How naive... I thought- what could be so heavy that two grown men can't carry it out? They've carried sofas out!

Oh....How wrong I was...

I thought I would be able to start working on my bathtubs right away- but it became clear as soon as we collected the bathtubs that they were not going upstairs- and since I would be adding hundreds more pounds of weight- it was necessary that I find out where they are going to go before I created a potentially unmovable 700? pound sculpture. I'm used to working on things spontaneously- by myself- wherever I want. This project is very different and I needed to be strategic- I wanted to avoid using my funds to move these objects more often then necessary.

I had always envisioned the bathtub grottoes in Washington Park. It's centrally located downtown between the historical post office and the Dubuque Museum of Art. Washington Park hosts tons of public events throughout the year, including one of Dubuque's biggest arts events, DubuqueFest. I thought maybe this could be a live, public event during DubuqueFest- what better way to ensure tons of visibility and public interaction? Fair-goers could learn about grottoes, donate their own materials to be used in one, and watch one being built- and maybe even help build it. I thought the Dubuque Museum of Art might be a great partner for this project so I approached them with idea and they agreed ! Exciting.

"Washington Park Gazebo Dubuque" by Dirk Hansen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons


Typically bathtub shrines are buried halfway, vertically, into the ground- but we wanted to avoid the trouble of digging giant holes in public property- especially since at this point we don't officially have permission to keep the bathtubs there past DubuqueFest (I am in the process of applying for a permit to display them for at least a few months after the event).

So my next issue was figuring out how to create some kind of stand for the bathtubs- I was eventually connected with woodworker Tim Hitzler, who also happens to be my neighbor. He agreed to help build wooden stands so the bathtubs could be held upright. In fact, in the process of me writing this blog post Tim texted to me to tell me that the first stand for the first bathtub stand is completed! I am going to be headed over there tomorrow morning to experiment grottifying a chunk of bathtub...wish me luck! I will be posting more details on the materials I decided to use and how everything goes. I'll probably bring my GoPro over to take a time-lapse.