Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Dam Angels

These statues are beautiful. When I visited Hoover dam I expected to see the engineering wonder of it all. I didn't expect to see all the amazing art and architecture associated with the complex. Because the dam was designed and built in the 1920's and 30's it is a wonderful example of the Art Deco style. The dam itself along with the intake towers are all beautifully streamlined. By comparison, modern dams are heavy mechanical things. In contrast, the Hoover Dam emphasizes soaring, sweeping curves and lines. Although its a monstrous construction of concrete and steel, I never got the feeling of weight and heaviness when I looked at it. Instead, I got the sense of space and openness. The concave slope of the dam and its pale off-white color gives the sense that its a fragile porcelein shell barely holding back the torrents of water behind it. It belies the fact that the base of this hulk is a concrete foundation as thick as a football field.

There are a number of impressive monuments around the dam celebrating its construction. The dedication monument is my favorite. It features these two beautifully stylized and streamlined angels. It seems as if the artist is trying to remodel the bodies into aircraft forms. I understand that during this time aerospace technology was just beginning to develop. Air travel was in its infancy and the use of airplanes as weapons of war was a new concept. It's interesting that the artist would associate angels, as guardians and instruments of protection, with aircraft that also serve as guardians and instruments of defense during that time. These angels wings are very obviously inspired by aircraft wing design. There are no suggestions of feathers on these wings whatsoever. Some might argue that the patterns on the torso are suggestions of feathers. I believe them to be a stylized representation of the intercostal muscles.

There was an interesting story they tell of the statues. It is considered to bring good luck to gamblers in the Vegas casinos to rub the feet of the angels as you pass. That's an unfortunate rumor because it has rubbed off the beautiful light green patina that all old bronze statuary have. The angels toes glisten a bright coppery bronze in the sunlight. Nevertheless, it's an inspiring monument.

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