Welcome to the Artist's Room of the Cultural Museum. Artists and works of artists continues with an international bronze sculpture.

Underwater Sculpture

Christ of the Deep
By Jerry Wilkinson

  The approximate nine foot bronze sculpture symbolizes peace of mankind from its unusual setting - beneath the ocean at Key Largo Dry Rocks off John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Below is the original casting being placed  in the Mediterranean Sea at San Fruttuoso Bay (near Genoa, Italy) near Genoa, Italy in 1954. It is known as the Il Christo Degli Abissi or in English - Christ of the Abyss. 

Professor Guido Galletti cast the original from the inspiration of Italian swimmer/diver Duilo Merchant who wanted a symbol to inspire all who explored and loved the sea in 1954. In 1961, the second casting from the original Galletti mold was placed in St. George's Harbor in Grenada to commemorate those saved from the Italian ship Bianca C. which caught fire and sank in the harbor. The third casting was commissioned by Italian dive equipment manufacturer, Egidio Cressi, and donated to The Underwater Society of America.

It was shipped to Chicago Illinois and arrived at the Navy Pier. 

Above is shown the statue's arrival aboard the SS Extravia in a wooden crate. Below is the opened crate with the receiving team of The Underwater Society of America, Carl Hauber, president.
Statue Hauber
Below  is another photo at the opening of the shipping crate at the Navy pier at Chicago.

 Above Gabe Spataro shown above and here as a member of the reception committee.
The display and celebration with a banquet and
the presentation to the United States was held at the Palmer House in Chicago. After festivities in Chicago, the statue was shipped and stored at O'Hare Airport. Finding a location for its permanent home was not easy, but with the attention from Senator Spessard Holland of Florida,  John Pennekamp Park won out, but there was no money to transport it to Key Largo.

The Orlando, Florida Otter Diving Club took a lead and with the help of the Naval Reserve a training flight transported the statue to Orlando, Florida where it was displayed.

One problem which had to be overcome was why were we putting this beautiful statue under water where so few could see it. In January 1964 it continued it trip to the Florida Keys to the Art McKee museum on Plantation Key. After engineering for the concrete foundation and other preparations were finalized, the statue was sent to Pennekamp Park in the spring of 1965.

To prepare for a June placement, Park personnel poured the huge concrete base slabs. Weather and breakdowns prevented the use of state equipment for actual placement.

Cothron Construction Co. of Islamorada was low bidder for the two-day placement which turned into three days. On August 25, 1965, the now approximate 20,000 pound statue was lowered into the selected location.

It was dedicated on June 29, 1966 by John Pennekamp at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, but before this, it had to withstand a test. Hurricane Betsy provided this on September 8, 1965 when she provided Category III wind churned seas and test its placement. Despite many doubting Thomas', the statue stood firm and tall, and did not move. 

In 1994 Jerry Wilkinson of the Historical Preservation Society nominated the statue for the Smithsonian Institute directed program of Save Outdoor Sculpture (SOS). He organized a survey team and these color photos are part of the result. Photos were taken by Richard Lemacks.

Team member, Tammy Swetman, stands beside the statue.

A close-up view of the mounting plate and attaching hardware.

My underwater work-board with data. Many measurements were taken and recorded.

This plaque was attached decades after the dedication without authorization and has recently (2007) fallen off. There is some question whether Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary will reattached it as it was not part of the original sculpture. The plaque read:
"If I take the wings of the morning
And swell in the uttermost
parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.
1927          In memoriam         1988
Michael M. Kevorkian"
Michael Kevorkian was a Miami dive shop operator who operated dive tours out of Key Largo. The story is that later dive operator Spencer Slate had the plaque made and attached to the statue's base in the 1990s.

For Keys visitors, the St. Justins Martyr Catholic Church provided a way for non-diving people to see the statue. They commissioned Ido Demetz of Italy to make a bronze replica which was set in place in 1991. It is located in front of the main sanctuary on US 1 at mile marker 105.5.

*Note: This and the following three pictures are of F. Rambelli, courtesy of the Historical Diving Society Italia.
The story is not over. In 1993 the original clay positive was found under a shed at the casting foundry. Note the arms are missing.

Picture of F.Rambelli, courtesy of the Historical Diving Society Italia

The clay mold was moved for restoration at Ravenna, Italy.

Upon searching the foundry, the arms were found in a box. Note the pins and holes to plug in the arms and hands. Please note that the hands were not found but rebuilt by the sculptor Mauro Bartolotti so the statue was complete.

The complete statue can be seen at the Ravenna "National Museum of the Underwater Activities".
See www.hdsitalia.com.

The story is still not over. Several years ago it was noticed that the original Christ of the Abyss near Genoa had one of its hands severed. Conjecture has it that probably an errant anchor was the culprit. Above is depicted the statue being raised for restoration.

The bronze statue is shown be carefully restored at Genoa. For those inclined to believe, note how the stump has healed over. A replaced hand will be welded on and the good as ever Christ of the Abyss will be lowered again sometime in 2004.

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