It’s one of Wichita’s many public art pieces. Outside of watching people crawl all over it during Riverfest you might not give the abstract piece much thought. Which is too bad, you should take some time and get up close to it, feel it and look at the wonderful art that has faced the Arkansas River since 1975.
“Interrupted Flight” was part of a land deal between the city and the Urban Renewal Agency to create a green space along the river. The area would be named A. Price Woodard Park after Wichita’s first African-American mayor. The sculpture is also dedicated to the former mayor.
The project began in earnest in 1972 when the city contracted Harry Bertoia to create a piece for the park. I reached out to the artist’s daughter Celia Bertoia who said her father, “sent sketches and models to the city in 1973.” Adding, “As you may know, cities are slow moving. Also that year they began to pinpoint the actual location and position facing the river.”
A little about the artist: Arri Bertoia was born on March 10, 1915, in San Lorenzo, Italy, which is about an hour north of Venice. He moved to Detroit in 1930
From 1953 to 1978 Harry Bertoia crafted over 50 public sculptures of all types.
The construction took about a year to finish with Harry and his crew using a technique Celia described as, “copper tubing which is heated to malleability, then curved into the desired shape, welding one piece at a time to the next piece. Finally an added chemical patina creates the coloring.”
It was installed in 1975 on a circular concrete base. A nearby plaque reads:
Celia Bertoia commented that this is an unusual sculpture because, “my father rarely titled his works unless the architect or owner requested it. Thus, someone asked him to come up with a name. It sort of looked like a bird coming in for a landing, thus the name.”
“Interrupted Flight” was the last large-scale sculpture Bertoia made using the technique of fused-copper tubing and bronze welding rods. The Wichita Art Museum owns the maquette (a full model of the sculpture).
Bertoia died of lung cancer in Barto, Pennsylvania, at the age of 63 on November 6, 1978. His wife, Brigitta Valentiner, died in 2007.
Special thanks to Celia Bertoia for helping me out on this story.