Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Builders of the Bridge

This picture needs some explanation. It was commissioned by a friend of mine back in 1979. She was the oddest friend I have ever had, but we had a lot of fun together, going to amusement parks and wasting time and money. She was a very quirky, OK, wacky type. I think, looking back, that she probably had some sort of autistic spectrum disorder like Asperger's syndrome. She had the weirdest fetish that I have ever heard of, namely an air pressure fetish. She had fantasies about being thrown out in space without a space suit, or being placed under a bell jar which was being pumped out for a vacuum. Fortunately she never acted on any of these fantasies though she did skydive (with a parachute) at least twice. She loved roller coasters and anything which would toss her around.

The story of the Roeblings, father and son, who were the designers and engineers of the Brooklyn Bridge, is an American epic. The air pressure element of the story attracted my friend. The construction of the bridge involved pressurized chambers under the surface of the river, and in the 1880s no one knew about "the bends," caused by bubbles of gas in the blood of those who moved into and out of the chambers. Washington Roebling, the son, was paralyzed by this and finished the work on the bridge despite his disability, aided by his wife.

My friend, inspired by the story of these grand engineering pioneers, commissioned this double portrait of father and son Roebling, with the Bridge in back of them, illuminated by fireworks. Looking back on the picture, it has a kind of "steampunk" look to it, although I tried to keep all the details historical, with contemporary photo references.

My friend and I lost touch with each other when she moved out to California to seek her fortune in the music business. The last time I heard from her, though, she had joined a fundamentalist Jewish sect and could no longer talk to me because I was an "apostate."

John and Washington Roebling portrait is about 10" x 12", watercolor on illustration board, fall 1979.


Tristan Alexander said...

Very cool picture...and I thought I was your strangest friend!!

Pyracantha said...

Tristan, this gal made you look like Mr. Normal. And by the way she was severely homophobic which made me wonder just how much air pressure was in her tank.