The Edge Outer Banks 2000.2001 Home

A Monumental Undertaking
By Wynne Dough

In 1993, artists Glenn Eure and Denver Lindley and journalist Nancy McWilliams got the notion to launch an artistic celebration of flight that would culminate on the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ breakthrough, December 17, 2003. Right away these instigators ran into the n+1 problem — ten years require eleven annual observances — but they cleared many thornier obstacles.
The First Flight Rotary Club adopted the program. Exhibit A, which had Icarus as its theme, drew entries from all over and disbursed $3,000 in prizes. The Rotary wing responsible for this triumph soon became known as the Icarus Committee.
At a meeting in 1994, Icarus really took off. Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, announced, “It’s time to prime the pump,” and pledged $5,000 a year for a decade. Before long, local businesses had put up nearly $140,000 more.
This outpouring of generosity allowed the exhibits, seven and counting — each with a new theme — to continue every December at Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery and the nearby Seaside Art Gallery, both in Nags Head. At length the Icarus Committee added performances, a literary competition, and a yearly chapbook. Popularity soared. In 1996, the committee left the nest as an independent tax-exempt charity, Icarus International.
One task remained. For several years, the Icarians discussed a finale more enduring than an exhibit, more substantial than a publication. Unlike edifices dedicated to the Wright brothers and roadside markers taking note of Billy Mitchell, this monument would commemorate pivotal events in the first century of powered flight and honor the reigning spirit of progress. In the crush of deadlines and deals, the shrine of the Zeitgeist dropped below radar.
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Collagraph by Glenn Eure
It had undeniable appeal, however. In 1999 Eure, Alterman, and others revived the idea. Eure made a variable pitch to politicos and other interested parties. His models evolved. “This project is a lot bigger,” Alterman says, “than it was a few months ago.”
After setting aside one rendering as “too much like Stonehenge,” Eure consulted Israel-born sculptor Hanna Jubran, a professor at East Carolina University whose works often express “concern about nature, society, and technology.” An “airier” conception emerged.
In the current design, fourteen concrete pylons graduated in height from eight to 18 feet form an ellipse, 75.5 feet by 59.5 feet, reminiscent of a planetary orbit. Each pylon, shaped like a Wright Flyer airfoil, will bear bronze tablets describing important occurrences in the first century of aviation. A circular platform in the center will support one of Jubran’s stainless-steel sculptures. A walkway as long as the Wrights’ first flight, 120 feet, will spiral out like Voyager (or in like Skylab), joining the centerpiece to the pylons.
A great deal is tentative. The courtyard may be brick or cobblestone. The centerpiece may be plain or in-scribed, may be ringed by a bench, and may be topped by a wind-driven generator. The Icarus board hasn’t approved plans, found a site, or chosen a title. It’s just begun considering which events to memorialize. The total price may run to six or seven figures.

ARIADNE’S ESCAPE by Dan Brawley & Fritzi Huber
second in the 1999 visual arts competition
Even so, Peggy Birkemeier, half of the feasibility committee, sees “good prospects if we can find the right niche.” The current design is more compact than some beach boxes, a mere 2,865 square feet. A contractor in Suffolk, Virginia has offered to build the pylons at cost. Many sites hold promise. The economy is burgeoning. “This is a marvelous idea,” Alterman says, “if the community thinks so.”
Birkemeier and Alterman agree that the project can fly if piggybacked like a Space Shuttle prototype. “This isn’t the Wright Memorial,” Birkemeier points out. “It’s more modest, more contemplative.” It would get more traffic attached to an existing attraction than it would standing alone. Of course, someone would have to maintain it. Long-term security, accessibility, and repair are beyond the scope of an organization that may disband after the centennial. Unless Icarus allies itself with some agency of government, Alterman fears that the monument will turn into “a graffiti attractor.”
In brief, a body with no fixed name, no Web site, scattered membership, and limited resources intends to raise a permanent monument to nobody in particular somewhere in Dare County — plans, permits, funding, and myriad further details TBA. If you don’t like those odds, recall that the two high-school dropouts who fetched up in Kitty Hawk 100 years ago had less going for them, and they succeeded on as tight a schedule.
Eure isn’t discouraged. As Lindley says of his fellow conspirator, “Glenn’s an in-the-bone optimist.” So are many in this crowd, for example, board member Bill Booker. “We have three years,” he says. “I don’t see why we can’t raise the money once we have working drawings.” Faith trumps adversity. Stone breaks scissors. Exuberance is beauty.
Will our descendants use antigravity conveyances powered by some yet-undiscovered transuranic element? Will they stop by the Outer Banks en route from breakfast in Singapore to dinner by the Sea of Tranquillity? Will a masonry centurion bid them to pause in earshot of the surf and ponder their ancestors’ achievements? Don’t bet against any of this.
The Wright brothers not only flew before the wise men of their time. They also got three-day mail service between Kitty Hawk and Dayton.

NOTE: Icarus International is going ahead with the monument project. A site has been chosen near the visitor center in Kitty Hawk. Fundraising is underway. For more information about Icarus, the monument, and related topics, visit the Icarus International website at www.icarusinternational.com.

Dubious Honors / Voice in the Sky


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