The towering steel sculpture that graced the entryway of Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport from 1990 to its closing earlier this month will live on for passengers in the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport terminal, said Victor White, director of airports.
The sculpture, “Magic Flight,” which was created by Mexican sculptor Leonardo Nierman, will be placed in the northwest corner of the pre-security area of the terminal, near the ticketing space, White said. He said crews will “hopefully start” the process of moving it to the new terminal sometime next month.
“Space has been identified for that for years in the planning (of the new terminal),” White said. “We’ve already got a space reserved for it.”
Jason Lonergan, a local art professional contracted by the city to maintain its public art displays, said he contacted the city months ago about moving the sculpture but has not received a firm response on the city’s part.
“I’ve been sitting around since April on that project just waiting to hear,” Lonergan said. “I don’t know. It would be fantastic if they were ready to move it and I got to do it, but you never know.”
White said “a number of people, including myself,” would have liked to see the sculpture in the new terminal on opening day, “but there was no realistic way to do the relocation at that point in time.”
“We would have had a hole in the floor, among other things, so it would have been very unattractive to leave that area of the terminal while it was still being used by passengers,” White said. “It would be difficult getting it out of an operational building.”
He said the city plans on requesting bids to move the sculpture in the next few weeks. The architect of the new terminal examined the sculpture last week and has been working through the logistics of a new base design, White said. Because of the way it was installed in 1990, crews will have to remove the sculpture from its massive black granite base and create a new base for it, he said.
“He has to design what’s the best and safest way to attach it to the new floor,” White said. “It’s not a simple thing. It’s fairly complex.”
Lonergan said he has a meeting with airport officials on Monday to discuss moving the sculpture. He said he has already submitted his bid for the project.
“It’s not going to be super-easy,” he said. “My problem is it’s going to be pretty heavy, and I don’t know how flimsy. I don’t want it to buckle on itself or get scratched up or any of that. I’m not really sure exactly how it’s going to get moved.”
In 1990, the sculpture was installed for $75,000; about $30,000 of that cost was donated by family and friends of Wichita businessman Barry Staub, who died of pancreatic cancer that year at age 46. The sculpture was dedicated to Staub, and his family and friends commissioned Nierman to create it.
There is only one other sculpture exactly like it – a smaller-scale version of “Magic Flight” stands near a lake at an office complex in Naperville, Ill.
The sculpture’s black granite base is bolted in through the basement of the terminal, Lonergan said. He said if he wins the contract, he would suspend the sculpture from the ceiling, remove the base from underneath the sculpture, build some sort of “cradle” to move the metal part without damaging it and transport it to the new terminal from there.
And when the sculpture is ready to be installed in the new terminal, it will have to happen when no passengers are there – an overnight move, White said.
“That’s the preferred plan, because we can’t have it disrupt airline and customer activities in that lobby area,” he said. “It’s going to have to be figured out ahead of time.”
Some had initially expressed concern that the sculpture would be included in the Wichita Airport Authority’s upcoming auction of items from the old terminal, which White said “absolutely will not” happen.
The Wichita Airport Authority has plans to auction off many items from the old terminal before its demolition. Auctioneers from Manhattan-based website Purple Wave will come to the terminal and assess “what they think has value” and would not be excessively difficult to remove, White said.
“We’ve had people ask if they can purchase signs, if they could purchase carpet, if they could purchase water fountains – anything is for grabs if it has value,” White said. “But it has to be something easy to take away, without requiring demolition.”
He did not have a firm date for when the auction will start, though he said he’s hoping to get it done by late July or August. He said he will give the public “plenty of notice so nobody misses it.”
When “Magic Flight” was first installed, it came on the heels of a $6 million renovation project at Mid-Continent in 1989.
Because of its placement directly in the middle of the Mid-Continent lobby, it became a popular backdrop for airport visitors’ photos over the years. In fact, the final family to fly through Mid-Continent took their picture in front of the sculpture before leaving.