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The making of a float

From idea & design to construction & parade

The Narcissistine Chapel

By Dan Thompson

I never considered myself a visual artist. In my 20s I had been an actor and director, so I was familiar with a creative process. I also had been a carpenter, and designing and building a structure is utilitarian art. I had made a few elaborate pinatas for my kids, but nothing entitled me to be so bold as to call myself a visual artist except the promise of the Wheaton Arts Parade that "on this day anyone can be an artist."  If I wanted others to believe it, I had to believe it myself.


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Start with a base: A float needs a base that's sturdy but light and with good casters. I used 4" casters. They cost about $9 each. Using new lumber, the two dollies cost about $120.
An Idea: Take a recognizable work of art and give it a modern twist. What could be more recognizable than Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting of God giving life to Adam.
God's Dolly

God's Dolly

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When I started building, I realized my original design was going to be too big to get out of the Art Factory, so I reduced the size by 1/4.  Some math required.
Construction: I used 1x2 pine for the skeleton and secured it to the base with screws. Then I used a roll of 2' "chicken wire" to form the body and stuffed it with news paper to give it shape. I made the skin of paper mache using an Elmer's glue product mixed with water and newspaper and wrapping paper. I had lots of help from other artists working at the Art Factory, including Liz Dapo, Laura-Leigh Palmer, Paige Friedeman and my daughter Sophie.
Painting: Thanks to a real artist, Judy Szypa, and her friend Jen Scope the white sculpture was brought to life with color. It was at this point, that the Sistine Chapel became the Narcissistine Chapel. Adam is taking a selfie and can't see that God is trying to touch him and give him life. The things we miss with our eyes glued to our phones. I also glued styrofoam to the bases for extra stability around Adam and God, and to complete the image - a rock under Adam and God on a cloud.
I took a photo of Adam's face as painted by Judy and printed it. Then I glued it to the cardboard cell phone that Sophie had made. This is what Adam is looking at.
The Parade: I didn't want the people pulling the float to obstruct the spectators' view of the figures, so I used long ropes attached to the four corners of each float. My friends, Bill and Katherine Weber were visiting from Wisconsin and they teamed up with Judy and Sophie to manage the ropes, but they were still short-handed and had to recruit a spectator from the curb to manage the last rope. Halfway through the parade, I noticed they were pulling the float backwards, with Adam and God facing away from the crowd (below left). So, in the middle of Georgia Ave., they choreographed a 180 degree rotation of the two floats.
I didn't know whether the spectators "got it" until after the parade was over and I saw some video footage from the local cable TV station. Isn't this is why we create? You, too, can make a float for the Wheaton Arts Parade. It's coming on September 25, 2022. Get your friends to help and join us in celebrating art and Wheaton. On this day, anyone can be an artist.
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