It may be that his is one of the proverbial vanishing arts, but less than a week after the film he "starred" in won an Oscar, master stone carver Vincent Palumbo and his art will again be the center of attention. His rendering of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is to be dedicated tomorrow at the Washington Cathedral.
Palumbo was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary, "The Stone Carvers," along with Roger Morigi, retired master carver, and carvers Frank Zic and Constantine Seferlis. The film was produced by Washingtonians Marjorie Hunt and Paul Wagner.
But well before the excitement of the film awards, Palumbo had transferred the sculpture of King done by James Earl Reid of Baltimore into white limestone. The work depicts King in pulpit robes with arms extended, frozen in the vigor of his preaching.
A little more than 2 feet high, the statue is fixed above a Gothic arch along the outer aisle on the cathedral's north side, so that the civil rights leader seems to be looking down from a high pulpit.
The figure of King is located in an area of the cathedral dedicated to saints of all nations, symbolizing the structure's international and universal Christian outreach. But King "is the only person so memorialized so soon after his death," said Richard T. Feller, the cathedral's clerk of the works.
"He will be the only person in this series who will have been personally seen by many who are living today," Feller said.
The link between the cathedral and the slain civil rights leader is a particularly poignant one: King preached his last Sunday sermon there on the Palm Sunday before he was killed in Memphis 17 years ago.
Joining Bishop John T. Walker in tomorrow's dedication ceremony will be Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta, who was at King's side when he was gunned down on the Lorraine Motel balcony.
D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, also a longtime King associate, will lead the congregation in a litany of commemoration prepared for the occasion by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
The public service, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., will also feature the Howard University Chorale.
But even as they prepared for tomorrow's dedication and the busy Holy Week schedule ahead, Cathedral staff took time this week to celebrate "their" Oscar.
"We are indeed proud of our carvers," cathedral Provost Charles A. Perry said of artisans past and present whose work has embellished the massive Gothic structure with everything from Adam and angels to gargoyles and grotesques.
The award-winning film emerged from folklorist Hunt's interest in the art of stone carving, which retains few practitioners in an archtectural world dominated by unbroken planes of concrete and glass. Even in church architecture, few traditional Gothic structures are being planned today.
Nobody has counted the number of completed carvings that adorn the Washington Cathedral, on which construction and adornment are proceeding on a strictly pay-as-you-go basis.
The staff has estimated, however, that more than 30 "man-years" of carving remain to be done. They are not above taking advantage of the current excitement to point out that anyone with loose change to spare could be immortalized by endowing a crocket -- those leafy do-dads along the ridge of a spire ($1,000) or a great pinnacle ($350,000).
Is there a cheaper way to get a piece of an Oscar?