Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Watt A Work Of Art - Part Two

This is Part Two of the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia posts. See Part One HERE.

Traditional Methods Used with Ingenuity
The mosaic technique Rodia used is referred to as pique assiette; he undoubtebly saw examples of this mosaic technique in his native Italy. Pique Assiette are decorations applied by embedding carefully chosen shards and objects into the drying mortar during the building process.

Rodia built each tower by digging a shallow trench, filling it with cement and embedding four upright metal columns. When the mortar was set, he covered the upright steel with wire mesh and his cement mortar mixture. He used a variety of recycled materials to reinforce his constructions, working this metal using the railroad tracks near his property to bend it into the desired shape. For stability he built more than 150 flying buttresses. Flying Buttresses are support beams attached to the side of a structure that help distribute the weight evenly to the ground.

As the towers grew, Rodia made rungs encircling each set of support beams, attaching them with wire mesh and mortar to solidify the joints. When each rung had dried, he used it ladder-fashion to climb and attach another rung, each getting smaller in diameter towards the top. Rodia repeated this until the tower was finished at a narrow point.

Painstakingly Made of Society’s Leftovers
The Towers comprise seventeen structures decorated with approximately 100,000 ornamental fragments. Rodia used a variety of materials and objects for decorative purposes including approximately: 11,000 pottery shards...
10,000 seashells...
6,000 pieces of colored glass...
and 15,000 glazed tiles.
He used objects such as tools, faucet handles, heating grates, gears and metal molds to make decorative imprints on the walls and floors. He also recycled many different types of china fragments, broken mirror pieces, small china figurines, hundreds of rocks, and a variety of other materials. (My Note: He used his initials, SR, in many places throughout the structure as you can see in the next photo.)
Rodia’s creativity in using discarded and found objects for ornamentation is one of the Tower’s most remarkable aspects. (My Note: In the following three pictures, you'll see the imprints of some of the tools he used. These are my favorite pictures of the bunch - they remind me very much of my grandfather. He had several tools that would fit these very imprints.)

Art Achieved, Then Abandoned
“I had in my mind I’m gonna do something, something big.” When Rodia started his project he was forty-two. For the next thirty-four years he worked determinedly, ending his endeavor in 1954 at the age of seventy-five.

Without any apparent reason, Rodia left Watts forever in 1954, deeding the property to his neighbor, Louis Sauceda. The remaining years of his life were spent in a boarding house near his sister in Martinez, California, where he talked about his work to anyone who would listen. Simon Rodia died of a heart attack in 1965, without ever seeing the Towers again.
A Local Curiousity Becomes Local Identity
The Towers’ chain of ownership became complex after Rodia left. The recipient of Rodia’s gift, Louis Sauceda, sold the property to his neighbor, Joseph Montoya, for $500. Under Montoya’s indifferent stewardship the Towers were vandalized, and in 1956 Rodia’s house burned. In 1957 an order was issued to demolish the remains of the house and raze the Towers. Failure to locate Montoya over the next two years prevented the order from being executed.

In 1959 William Cartwright and Nicholas King discovered the Towers and became determined to preserve them. They located Montoya and bought the property from him for $20, with a promise to pay more. Hoping to improve the property, they applied for a permit to build a caretaker’s house on the site but were stopped by the earlier demolition order.

To save the Towers, Cartwright and King founded the “Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts,” with the initial goal of having the demolition order cancelled. To prove the Towers were stable, a stress test was devised that involved subjecting the tallest Tower to 10,000 pounds of pressure in an effort to topple it. It passed the test and the demolition order was withdrawn.
See the last installment of this series HERE.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Stupid Should Be An Abomination
The Fine Line Between Compliments And Creepiness
The Antenna Ball Beneath My Wings
Mexico? Where In Tarnation Is That??


Ms. Crawford said...

The towers are beautiful !!! I remember learning about them in school. I bet that is one of the neatest things, being able to bring something you've read or learned about in a book to life. I love it :)

Anonymous said...

the details and intricate artwork in this monster is amazing. I really wish that I could see this up close and personal. What an awesome sight to behold, ill bet!