Khaznat al-Faroun at Petra, Jordan. Photo taken by Calvin College professor Bert DeVries

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Return to the PETRA homepage April 4, 2005 - August 15, 2005
Lost City of Stone

News: March 15, 2005

Petra Prep Continues This Week

Brian McDowell was just a little anxious, he says, when he hoisted a 2,000 pound bust of Dushara onto a pedestal at Calvin College's Prince Conference Center with a forklift and hydraulic boom.

"It's exciting to see something that old," he says, "but it makes you a little nervous because it's irreplaceable."

McDowell, a rigging specialist and crane operator with Allendale-based West Shore Services, Inc. is installing the heaviest of the 2,000-year-old artifacts for Petra: Lost City of Stone, the multimedia exhibition of Nabataean culture coming to Calvin from April 4 through August 15, 2005.

"I've never done anything with stone and artifacts of this nature," Mc Dowell says.

The bust of Dushara is but one of some 200 Nabataean artifacts — along with video, a textiles exhibit and virtual reality features — that make Petra: Lost City of Stone the most comprehensive display of Nabataean culture ever exhibited.

West Shore Services Right for the Rigging

Dushara is not the heaviest thing McDowell has lifted. That would be the 90-ton steam engine he installed in Traverse City. Nor is Dushara the most awkward thing he has handled. That would be the Blue Whale skeleton, which long hung at the main entrance of the old Grand Rapids Public Museum — and which West Shore moved and hung in its new spot at the Grand Rapids Public Museum Van Andel Center.

Dushara does, however, present some special challenges to the rigging company.

"The relics are old, so you have to take special care," says Paul Christenson, a West Shore installer who is working with McDowell.

"You don’t touch it with your hands," says McDowell of the bust. "Your oils out of your hands can stain the stone. And you have to be careful where you're putting the rigging equipment, because some of it (the artifacts) is quite frail and some of it has been put back together. You have to be so careful that you don't crush it or break a little piece of it."

The answer, both men say, is to know your equipment and know exactly what you're lifting.

Materials Properly Prepared By Cincinnati

And the rigging of Petra: Lost City of Stone was eased, they say, by how the exhibition was packed. Each relic arrived with its proper rigging straps packed in its crate.

"Fortunately, we’ve been able to lean on the expertise of two world-class institutions that have put this exhibit together," says Joel Zwart, Calvin's director of exhibitions and the on-site curator for Petra: Lost City of Stone together.

The exhibition is a collaborative effort of the Cincinnati Art Museum and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Cincinnati has lent Calvin several personnel, including chief preparator Chris Williams, to make sure Calvin's exhibition is properly and safely installed.

Zwart was quick to praise West Shore's crew.

"It was one of those things that was providential," Zwart says. "We needed a rigging company, and there was one right here in town. And their references were great. It's nice to have a company with experience in moving things like trains because you know it's going to be able to move rocks."

Like Christmas

McDowell and Christenson can't wait to show off those "rocks" to their families.

"It's like opening a Christmas present," says Christenson of the exhibition. "You're in awe."

NOTE: Related news
March 9, 2005 - A behind-the-scenes sneak peak at Petra »

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