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He built a giant sculpture in a St. Petersburg roundabout. Here’s how.

Building a heavy public art piece in the middle of the bustling EDGE District was no small task.
On the left is "The Sun on The Edge," a sculpture on 11th Street N and Central Ave N, St. Petersburg. On the right is artist Ilan Averbuch.
On the left is "The Sun on The Edge," a sculpture on 11th Street N and Central Ave N, St. Petersburg. On the right is artist Ilan Averbuch. [ Courtesy of Ilan Averbuch ]
Published Jul. 14

The EDGE District’s newest tenant? A massive, industrial-style sculpture in the roundabout that towers nearly 30 feet tall.

Ilan Averbuch, a New York-based, Israeli-born artist, is behind the eye-catching artwork. He was one of nearly 100 artists who applied to create a showstopper in the roundabout on Central Avenue at 11th Street. He completed his winning design, “The Sun on the EDGE,” last month.

Related: What's that sculpture in the roundabout at Central Avenue in St. Petersburg?

The members of the selection committee, city staff and Mayor Rick Kriseman will join Averbuch at a ribbon cutting at the sculpture Thursday at 5:30 p.m. During the installation period, Averbuch chatted with the Tampa Bay Times over the phone about his work.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What qualities of the city of St. Petersburg inspired your design?

The city is quite a bit about sun. So that was a starting point. I’m working with a lot of stone and steel and wood and material like that. The roundabout is really informing quite a bit of the I looked for a design that has a relationship to that.

I didn’t want it to be just on the ground, and I kind of kept looking for quite some time for what should be done to elevate it. Then they came up with this idea of creating a reflection of a part of the sun, made of corten steel. There is a kind of that connection between the two colors, the rusty steel on the ground and the beautiful light colored stones, massive stones, floating up in the air, barely touching the reflection of the sun.

How did your research about the city factor into this sculpture?

I looked at what the EDGE District was before it became this fashionable area. It was all industrial, and so the sculpture had the element of old warehouses, you know, gritty material. A lot of my stones come from pavement and recycled curbstones.

I’d love to hear a little bit about your installation process. What are the steps involved in that?

First, I have an idea, then I start making sketches. Sometimes, my appetite in the drawing is too big. I think this was one of those cases.

There is an engineer that gets involved in the picture. We have bones — the sculpture has a steel inner structure. He has to calculate the ability to carry such a massive stone. It’s more than 40 tons, this sculpture. It has to withstand all these hurricanes and wind and all kinds of things that you have here.

I had to go and find what kind of recycled stone I can get that is large enough for the project. I was a little shocked by how big it is and had to figure out over a period of the winter how to build it and how to cut the stone to fit the inner structure.

It’s also one of my largest sculptures. I’ve done large sculptures, but here, the elements are massive. Each one of those stones is about 1,500 pounds, or more. 1,700 pounds, some of them. There’s some kind of a metal part that holds the stone in four points. I had to create it, to invent it, to make a steel element that really grabbed the stone from one side.

You weld the parts on one side, and then you raise it up... then the crane lifts it up and places it on the foundation.

What has the response been like?

A lot of people stop by, but I am very concentrated on the work. It’s very dangerous work. If I don’t connect the stone properly, and one of those stones fall and we are underneath, nobody can survive it.

It’s difficult because you have to work with a crane in the middle of a bustling city. The EDGE District is very busy. For the crane, one lane was closed for me, but you know, I have to go sometimes to the other side. I had to finish off an hour earlier because there was a baseball game.