“Let each man exercise the art he knows,” wrote Aristophanes 2400 years ago. That spirit inspired Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato Rodia, who spent 33 years building the Watts Towers in his spare time.
“I had in mind to do something big and I did it,” he said. He started work in 1921, and by 1954 he’d created 17 interconnected structures, some nearly 100 feet tall. His materials included broken pottery, scrap metal, bottles, bed frames, and seashells, and he assembled them using hand tools and window washers’ equipment.
Rodia finally gave up and left after repeated vandalism — local rumors said the towers were antennae for communicating with the Japanese. But when the city actually broke a crane trying to knock them down, it changed its mind and preserved the site as a state historical park.
If you live near the Liverpool coast, don’t be alarmed to see human figures slowly disappearing beneath the waves. They’re part of a modern sculpture, called Another Place, designed by Antony Gormley. There are 100 cast-iron figures in all, spread over a 2-mile stretch of beach.
The U.S. Supreme Court building is pretty spiffy. It has its own cafeteria, a 450,000-book library and a basketball court on the fifth floor (which staffers call “the highest court in the land”).
It’s so spiffy that when it opened in 1935, some justices were embarrassed. Harlan Fiske Stone called it “almost bombastically pretentious … wholly inappropriate for a quiet group of old boys such as the Supreme Court.” Others called it “the Temple of Karnak” and suggested that justices ought to enter the courtroom riding on elephants.
One worrying note: The building’s frieze depicts Moses delivering the Ten Commandments, but his beard obscures some of the Hebrew, so the visible text reads:
French postman Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924) tripped on a stone in April 1879 and was never the same again. Claiming he’d been inspired, he began collecting stones during his daily rounds, carrying them home in huge quantities and assembling them at night by the light of an oil lamp.
After 20 years he’d completed the outer walls of his palais idéal (“ideal castle”), combining styles suggested by the Bible and Hindu mythology. But when Cheval finished the project after 33 years of work, authorities refused to let him be buried in it. So he built his own mausoleum.
His dedication was rewarded — he was interred there the following year.
Inspiration can strike anywhere. Born in 1884, “arborsculptor” Axel Erlandson made living trees into works of art for more than 40 years, eventually even opening a “Tree Circus” in 1947 in California’s Santa Clara Valley.