Birmingham’s Vulcan gets a new coat of paint

Birmingham’s Vulcan gets a new coat of paint
Birmingham's Vulcan statue receives a fresh coat of paint in preparation for its 113th birthday. (Erin Harney/Alabama NewsCenter)

When you spend all of your time outdoors, you can use some freshening up from time to time. Especially if you’re almost 113 years old.

Vulcan, the world’s largest cast iron statue, is receiving a fresh coat of paint, just in time for his upcoming Birthday Bash on June 4.

Vulcan looks his birthday best after new paint job from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Birmingham’s Vulcan Park and Museum has been closed to the public since Monday, April 24, as workers apply paint to the 56-foot-tall statue, which weighs 101,200 pounds and is continuously exposed to the elements. The grounds and Vulcan’s observation tower have been open during the evenings from 6 to 10. The park and museum will resume normal operating hours Saturday, April 29.

“In an effort not to compromise the Vulcan Park and Museum experience, and for the safety of our daily visitors, we closed the park grounds and museum during our daytime hours,” said Joe Saling, director of visitor experience.

It takes some maintenance to keep a 113-year-old outdoor statue looking its best. (Erin Harney/Alabama NewsCenter)

The idea for Vulcan was proposed in preparation for the 1904 World’s Fair by James McKnight, manager of the Alabama State Fair. Vulcan was the Roman god of fire and forge, and would artistically represent the wealth of industrial resources throughout the state.

McKnight presented the statue idea to the Commercial Club, the forerunner of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, and received its support. Giuseppe Moretti, an Italian-born sculptor, was selected for the project.

Moretti began by creating a 2-foot-tall model of the statue from clay. He then developed a full-size model, a wooden form covered in clay, which was used to make plaster molds. Because of the size of the statue, Moretti had to use an abandoned church in New Jersey as his studio.

The plaster molds were shipped to the Birmingham Steel and Iron Company to be cast into iron. Then, each of the 21 iron pieces was sent to St. Louis, Missouri, to be assembled for the World’s Fair. The statue was officially dedicated on June 7, 1904.

Vulcan was displayed in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy, where it was viewed by more than 18 million people from around the world. Attached to his anvil was a sign that said, “Iron is King. Its home is Birmingham, Alabama.”

Moretti and the foundry received awards for the statue, and Vulcan himself took the grand prize among the fair exhibits. When the fair ended, Vulcan was disassembled and shipped back to Birmingham. The statue eventually was reassembled at the Alabama State Fairgrounds, where it remained for 30 years.

In 1935, Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railway Company (TCI) donated 4.45 acres of land on Red Mountain to the city of Birmingham to develop Vulcan Park. The statue was moved there in 1939, as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.

Since that time, there have been several renovations of the park and statue. A renovation in 2003 helped to restore several damaged pieces of the statue, with recasting done by Robinson Iron of Alexander City, based on original drawings by Moretti. Also at that time, the original 1939 stone pedestal was uncovered and restored.

A view of Birmingham from the Vulcan statue, 2010. (The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Vulcan Park reopened to the public in 2004 and welcomes thousands of visitors annually to the park and observation deck for stunning views of the city.

Mark your calendars now to share in the celebration of Vulcan, and the history of Birmingham, at the 113th Birthday Bash. The event will be from noon to 4 p.m. and will feature live music by George Griffin and the Firebirds, face painting, a kids zone and game room, bounce house, photo booth, climbing wall, arts and crafts, and much more. Free ice cream will be provided by Piggly Wiggly Birmingham and free cookies provided by Bud’s Best following the “Happy Birthday” song with Birmingham Mayor William Bell.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit: http://visitvulcan.com/event/vulcans-113th-birthday-bash/#.WQIDjtjfN9A.

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