Iconic 'skyscraper lunch' sculpture is one man down

Click to follow

You don't go walkabout when you are perched on a steel girder hundreds of feet above the streets of New York - but that is what one member of the city's most famous construction crew has done.

Not of flesh and blood but rather metal, fibreglass and cement, the errant workman was, until this week, the eleventh figure on a sculpture by the Italian artist Sergio Furnari inspired by the iconic photograph by Charles Ebbets of ironworkers taking lunch during the building in 1932 of the Rockefeller Centre.

Finished a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the piece depicts the fearless men in lifesize scale sitting on the beam. Mounted on the back of a pick-up truck, it toured the country after being was parked for five months at Ground Zero in Manhattan to raise morale among clean-up workers.

But on Tuesday when Furnari went to Queens where he stows the sculpture intending to drive it around Manhattan he spotted a problem. The eleventh man, wearing a flat cap and with a bottle in one hand, sitting on the far right of the beam, was missing, apparently the victim of a theft.

Kidnapping him cannot have been easy. Like the other workers, he was welded to the beam and weighed a good 100lbs (45kg). Hiding him from the police may be a challenge too as would attempting to sell him. Separated from his crew, he might be worth about £5,000.

The hunt is on but so far no leads have been reported "I feel like they stole a part of me, a part of my life," Furnari told the New York Post. "It has great sentimental value."

Every New Yorker is familiar with original photograph, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, sometimes called the most famous of the 20th century. Already a successful commercial photographer, Ebbets had been hired by the builders of the Rockefeller Centre to record its creation. He took the picture from the 69th floor of an adjacent building. It was published soon afterwards by the New York Herald Tribune.

The monochrome picture lived on not just because of the astonishing sight of the men's feet dangling so far above the rest of Manhattan. It also became a symbol of the courage of the ironworkers of that time and paid homage to working men and women generally.

Furnari, 37, had the luck of perfect timing when he finished his own version of the work in three dimensions. He recalled the effect the work had on it crews clawing through the mangled wreckage of the twin towers after the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in September 2001.

"When they were down in the hole, nobody was smiling. But when they were by the statue, they were inspired, and realised their work was appreciated," he said.

"The twin towers were made by the ironworkers, and it was the ironworkers that had to remove the whole steel out of Ground Zero."

Since then, the piece has toured cities across the United States and become a familiar sight in Manhattan as Furnari drives it up and down the island, drawing smiles from tourists as they instantly recognise the scene.

Until the missing contruction worker is found, the sculpture will have to remain out of sight. But all is not lost, even if he never shows up. Furnari says he has the cast to make the man again.