NC State basketball player Wyatt Walker was honored when the North Carolina Museum of Art asked him to lend a hand with a major restoration project.
Actually, museum officials needed his entire arm.
The N.C. Museum of Art is in the process of rebuilding an ancient statue called Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. The Bacchus Conservation Project requires using as many ancient and valuable parts to put the statue back together.
But the right arm was a key missing piece.
“We are going to put everything back together,” said Caroline Rocheleau, the director of the project at the museum. “Why not create that arm that has been missing since before it came to the museum?”
That’s where Walker, the Wolfpack’s 6’9” forward, came in. His arm was scanned to create a model for the right arm of the statue.
“I was honored they reached out to me, and it was really fun to be part of it,” said Walker, a graduate transfer from Samford, in an email to The News & Observer. “It was a pretty easy process for me. The most enjoyable part was just being able to help them out because while talking to them, you could see the passion they had for the project and their work.”
The project started in 2013, but it was originally being billed as a “de-restoration,” meaning the museum was going to take apart the parts of the statue that were ancient, conserve them and display them separately.
But throughout the process, the project staff realized that more of the statue’s pieces were from quarry marbles that were unique, meaning that the parts were more ancient than originally thought. It didn’t make “curatorial sense” to show off each separate piece, the museum said in a news release.
Instead, they decided to rebuild Bacchus with all of the ancient parts, including making the new arm plus topping it off with a head.
But they needed someone with the expertise to take on the task of creting the arm. They happened to connect with Hillsborough artist Larry Heyda of Lawrence Heyda Studios, who had been invited to the Raleigh art museum for an unrelated project. When Heyda came to the museum, he saw Bacchus and started asking questions about his missing arm.
When the project was explained to him, Heyda instantly had ideas on how to place an arm on the statue without creating too much pressure on the important ancient torso.
“I said, ‘I have done things out of fiberglass that would be lightweight and would not be dangerous to attach,’” Heyda said in an interview. “They really liked that idea, and I came back for another meeting.”
As it turns out, Heyda’s portfolio showed he had previous experience doing similar projects of creating statues from live models. He has created statues of President Ronald Reagan and Magic Johnson, from photographs and scans.
When it came to Bacchus’ arm, Heyda felt best to use a live model, which is not unusual. But he then went on to think about using a basketball player to match the specifications needed for the project.
The Roman God of Wine was discovered to be 6’8’’ in height and of a lean musculature.
“We couldn’t just go to the gym to pick up somebody,” Rocheleau said. “They may not be the right height and body shape. The whole selection was Larry Heyda.”
Heyda started to look at basketball teams around North Carolina, looking for a player with the right height and musculature.
“Finally, I found Wyatt Walker over there at NC State,” Heyda said. “I wrote over to Dawn Winters, she was the assistant to the coach. She came back with a nice email right away, excited about the project.”
However, when Walker was contacted, Rocheleau had to provide him with proof of the project on museum letterhead. He thought it might be a prank from his teammates, she said.
After he agreed to the scanning, Heyda, Rocheleau, Heather Pendrak, who is a 3-D scanner in Greensboro, and a photographer made their way to NC State’s Dail Basketball Center Nov. 5 to meet with Walker and start the scanning process.
Heyda welded braces together to create a special chair for Walker that would keep his arm raised and stable during the 10-minute scanning process.
“(Walker) was very nice and very helpful,” Heyda said. “He just sat there, and I think all the blood ran down his arm after about five minutes, but he was a real trooper. It was friendly and jovial, but we got the business going.”
Heyda said he noticed some of the other players poking their heads in and laughing at Walker.
After the scan was made, Heyda created a mock statue and arm at 28 percent of the actual mass.
“It looks like it was made for it, it’s unbelievable,” Heyda said.
The final product is still a work in progress, and something that will be reversible in case future museum directors or artists want to remove it.
“Any conversion this day and age is reversible,” Rocheleau said.
The exhibit will premiere in March 2020, and exhibit materials will credit Walker as the model for the arm.
“I am definitely excited to go to the NCMA and see the finished project,” Walker told The News & Observer. “They worked so hard on it and I’m glad I was able to play a part to help them.”
For more information about the Bacchus project go to ncartmuseum.org/bacchus.