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‘Sculpture belongs to the people’

After years of planning and fundraising, Neil Dawson’s Ascension is up in Masterton. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

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At 4.20pm yesterday, Neil Dawson threw his hands in the air and shouted with relief.
His Ascension sculpture did not move an inch as its support ropes were released.
The long-anticipated and controversial sculpture was finally securely in place above Masterton’s northern roundabout.
Mr Dawson had been on site since 7am directing his installation team as Ascension was carefully erected.
It was an apprehensive time for the internationally acclaimed sculptor, who said he would not be able to relax until his newest public artwork was in its final resting place – “up in the air”.
“It’s exciting, it’s been about three years since I first came to Masterton to look at the project and the roundabout, and now it’s all coming to fruition.”
The Aratoi Foundation began its quest to commission a public art piece for Masterton in 2014.
Ascension was initially estimated to cost $250,000, but that figure rose to $340,000, with the bulk of those funds coming from community trusts.
Mr Dawson, 68, who spent his primary school years in Masterton, said all the time and effort that had gone into the sculpture all came down to the one day it took to install it.
“There’s always a fear of the small things that happen when you’re dealing with a prototype.”
He said many people had played a part in making Ascension a reality, and he paid special tribute to the commissioning body, the Aratoi Foundation, and its chairman Bob Francis, and member Mena Antonio.
Mr Dawson said he had done his bit, and now the artwork belonged to the people of Masterton, who would ultimately decide what to make of it.
“Public art creeps up on people.
“You see public art in a series of glimpses, and over time you build up a relationship with it.”
Throughout the day, Mr Dawson himself had been surprised at how the artwork altered as the weather changed.
The artist said he left Masterton at age 10, after attending Masterton Primary and Masterton Intermediate as a founding student.
Now living in Christchurch, Mr Dawson said he had fond memories of building huts on the island in Queen Elizabeth Park with his childhood buddies.
Former Masterton mayor, Mr Francis, said the sculpture was going to be “a real feature” for the town.
He would be excited to see it lit up at night by lights, which were yet to be installed.
“It’s going to be amazing.”
Melbourne resident Karen Bell, who has spent the last few months in Masterton writing, was at the scene watching the installation team at work.
She said she was a fan of the unique public artwork, which was sure to “lift people’s spirits”.
“From my perspective it’s just fantastic.
“I love the name of it and from a distance you’re not going to see the wires, it’s just going to be a sculpture suspended in space.”
Traffic Safe NZ has been in charge of traffic control around the State Highway 2 site since last month when foundation works for Ascension began.
Traffic management supervisor Michael Gordon said Ascension arrived on a truck at 7am yesterday in two pieces.
The sculpture, in his opinion, was “absolutely awesome”.
He said traffic had been “very well behaved”, making the job for him and his team very easy.

Mr Dawson, standing chuffed in front of his public artwork. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Mr Dawson, standing chuffed in front of his public artwork. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

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