MANCHESTER — For five years, the bronze sculpture “Crosswalk” depicting rushing, closely packed pedestrians crossing a city street has graced a green patch of grass at the juncture of Granite and Old Granite streets.
The creation of sculptor Ernesto Montenegro, 67, of Claremont, it depicts the everyday lives of workers in the city. The idea came to him as he was having coffee many years ago on an upper floor of the Warner Building on Fifth Avenue in New York City. He looked out a window and saw people crowded together as they walked across a busy crosswalk.
Montenegro, whose sculptures are found in private and public collections worldwide, including a museum in Vatican City, put a manhole grate right smack dab in the middle of “Crosswalk.” And tucked inches below that grate was a bronze beetle, the work of Annissa Nugent, a student of his at the time at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, where he still teaches one day a week.
That 1½-inch-long beetle is no longer a part of the sculpture.
“I have no idea when it was taken,” said Montenegro. “The last time I saw it was a couple of years ago.”
He stopped by the statue a couple of weeks ago and noticed the beetle, which he said added a bit of whimsy to the work, was gone.
“All of the people are looking downward and the beetle was welded upward,” he said. “It was a cool little component because it was going against the grain. They just took a screwdriver or something and popped it off.”
“Crosswalk” gives spectators a bird’s eye view of people crossing an intersection. The back of the sculpture features an individual walking up a stairwell with his shadow following behind.
The sculpture’s base is granite and the structure is constructed of bronze and other materials that allow “Crosswalk” to retain its beauty in New England’s sometimes harsh weather.
Which brings us back to that manhole grate which Montenegro described as a reference to Dante. “Way underneath the manhole is something else,” he said.
The piece was commissioned by the Manchester Art Fund but no public funds were allocated to cover the more than $45,000 cost. Funds were raised privately and companies volunteered to install the 12-foot sculpture.
The sculpture was first done in clay, then cut up in pieces from which rubber molds were made. Those “negatives” were cast into wax which was about three-eighths of an inch thick. The wax pieces were then covered in a ceramic shell and fitted with screws and vents because they are hollow. Finally, the wax was melted and the remaining shell was cast in molten bronze at Green Foundry in Eliot, Maine.
A smaller version of the sculpture, which is about 4 feet tall, has been put on display in many places, Montenegro said, from New York, to Sante Fe to Martha’s Vineyard. It is based at the Michelson Gallery in Northampton, Mass.
Montenegro comes by his talent naturally. His father was Enrique Montenegro, who was born in Chile, moved to the United States and became known as an American abstract painter. His oil paintings can be found in museums as well.
Ernesto Montenegro was born in Albuquerque, N.M., and, growing up in an artistic household, never went to art school for specialized training. Initially, he was a painter, following in his father’s footsteps, but in his 20s he took up sculpting and never looked back. For a time he lived in New York and Boston, but 25 years ago settled in Claremont.
He presently is working on a “bigger than life” abstract cyclist sculpture for Greenfield, Mass.
Montenegro is offering a $100 reward for the beetle’s return, no questions asked. If you have it or know its whereabouts, email Montenegro at email@example.com.