Envisioning The Art At The End Of The Tunnel The Statues "Would Be A Gift From America's Children."

Posted: September 18, 1992

Sculptor Carl LeVotch caught his first glimpse of the tunnel last year through swirls of dust kicked up by earth movers at Folkestone, England. He was so impressed that he crossed the English Channel in a Hovercraft to get a look from the other side, 32 miles away in Coquelles, France.

There, under the ground and the water, was one of the world's largest construction projects - a multibillion-dollar engineering marvel. Inside its gaping mouth were hordes of workers called "tunnel tigers" and a tungsten- carbide-tipped boring machine tearing through chalky earth 130 feet beneath the channel.

LeVotch, of Cherry Hill, wanted to be part of the adventure. Now, he may have his chance. LeVotch is working on two pieces of statuary - works he hopes will "commemorate the tunnel, something that would link Europe and America, too."

LeVotch, 42, has been sketching out ideas for the statuary in his Pennsauken studio. After preliminary talks with tunnel officials, he will present his ideas Sept. 30 at the Eurotunnel Exhibition Center in Folkestone. His work is the only one under consideration.

If the proposal is approved, LeVotch plans to create several bronze figures - called "The Travelers" - to place at terminals near the tunnel entrances on each side of the Channel.

The works would depict children out for an adventure: three American and three European youths, accompanied by a dog. They'll carry knapsacks, binoculars and canteens, just as LeVotch and his friends did growing up in Camden - "when adventure was as close as the back yard," he says.

The $1.8 million work would be paid for by corporate donations and unveiled on the first anniversary of the tunnel's opening, now scheduled for 1993.

"It would be a gift from America's children," said the artist. "The statues will inspire people, raise their spirits as they go into the tunnel on their adventure. I believe we never lose that sense of it from our childhood."

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In LeVotch's bright studio last week, children - models for the project - were busy mustering up their imagination.

Little 4-year-old Nestor Kurtz of Cherry Hill was stooping down to catch an imaginary frog. And 9-year-old twins, Ashley and Alexis Wilson of Pennsauken, were looking through a "telescope" (a rolled-up piece of paper) and holding on to Tippy, an English bulldog.

LeVotch will make a 6-by-4-foot drawing of his sculptures and a scaled-down clay model of one or two figures in the project.

"The world is going to be much different for today's children than it was when we were growing up," LeVotch said in an earlier interview. "Before, the distance from Europe was an asset to our growth. We were divorced from its turbulence. Now, we're finding out that Europe is of great importance to us."

LeVotch said the "chunnel" showed that the world was shrinking and ''becoming a global village." For the first time since the Ice Age, England and Europe will be physically linked. The tunnel - the longest underwater - will carry high-speed rail cars loaded with automobiles and trucks and their passengers.

"We have to educate our children about the changes around us," said LeVotch. "They're the future."

The artist plans to use other models for the finished bronze sculptures, to depict the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States. Children in England and France also will model, each providing a flavor of their country.

While the sculptures are being created - probably in a studio in Belgium - students in hundreds of elementary schools across the United States will be asked to compose messages to youngsters in Europe, the artist said.

One message will be chosen from each school and engraved on plaster forms by art students, who will make molds of the finished product.

"When the statues are unveiled, children from America and Europe will take part in the ceremony," LeVotch said. "We'd like to have the models, as well as children from disadvantaged areas. . . . It's an exciting project."

LeVotch has been amazed by the enthusiasm - both here and abroad - for ''The Travelers."

He and Heinz Fischer, chairman of the project's steering committee, have received support from federal, state and local U.S. officials. They have also talked to public-relations experts about raising funds for the effort.

"I don't think the money will be any problem," said Fischer, a retired research and development executive for Campbell Soup Co., based in Camden. ''We would look for (American) corporations that have business in England and the continent. To many of these companies, this is peanuts."

Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.) told tunnel officials in a letter last month that "The Travelers" was a "worthwhile endeavor. A gift from America's children to the people of Great Britain and France is a fitting memento to the long history of cooperation between friends."

New Jersey Assemblyman John A. Rocco (R., Camden) and Camden Bishop James T. McHugh offered their backing in letters to Raymond Seitz, the U.S. ambassador to Britain. And Sen. Larry Pressler (R., S.D.) asked the ambassador in a letter to give the proposal his "personal support."

"This project is designed to instill in the children of the United States an appreciation for a strong alliance between Europe and America," said Pressler. "That alliance has never been more important than in today's rapidly changing world."

The project's steering committee will not officially seek funds until the project is approved.

LeVotch will make his presentation - complete with the sketch and models of the statues - to officials of the tunnel and Kent County, England.

"It's a very exciting idea," said Tony Gueterbock, chief spokesman for Eurotunnel, the British-French firm in charge of the tunnel. "It's the kind of art that I can understand; I feel I can relate to it. It's received good comments here."

Caralyn Tettmar, a tunnel spokeswoman, said officials would decide about the project soon after LeVotch's presentation.

"It's an interesting concept," she said. "I think they're open-minded."

LeVotch says his idea is not really new, though.

"The Statue of Liberty is one of the inspirations for the project," he said. "It's one of our great artistic and cultural treasures. Hopefully, 'The Travelers' will be treasured in the same way by Europeans."

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