Harlem resident Gary Russeth recently completed another artistic creation depicting his favorite comedic duo - Laurel and Hardy.
Russeth's newest creation, appropriately titled Going Bye Bye, is a three-dimensional wall hanging depicting the comedy team trying to escape town in a 1914 Ford Model T as they did in the 1934 flick Going Bye-Bye!
"Another old car. I like old cars," said Russeth, who also builds life-size classic car reproductions out of wood. "It is a Model T Ford with Laurel and Hardy in it, of course."
Russeth, a retired machinist for a life-support company, and his wife, Jean, moved to Harlem from Minnesota in 2005, having fallen in love with the city after their first Oliver Hardy Festival in 2002. The city is the birthplace of Hardy.
Russeth said he is a lifelong fan of Laurel and Hardy and began work on the wall hanging before leaving Minnesota.
The piece is nearly 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide and is made of wood products, including carved wood, and hardened cardboard and shellac.
"I started it quite a long time ago. I just about threw it away when we moved," Russeth said. He decided to throw it in the moving truck anyway. "Now, I finished it."
Russeth said he might one day loan the piece for display at the former Columbia Theatre, which is being renovated, or to the welcome center on Interstate 20 at the South Carolina state line.
Another of Russeth's construction projects is planned to stand guard outside the theater when it is complete. Last year, he began using a wood composite material, fiberglass and shellac to create statues of Laurel and Hardy, which will eventually be bronzed and be on permanent display at the theater.
Likenesses of the comedians' heads are complete along with their hands and shoes. The bodies of the statues, Russeth said, are major projects.
"I'm planning on doing them here this summer," he said. He's not in a hurry to complete them because the theater is still under construction. "The bronzing, that's the big thing."
Russeth said he estimates the bronzing to cost about $18,000. He's saving thousands of dollars doing the design work, but the money will need to be raised before the bronzing can begin.
Like the statues, the theater will require a lot of work before it will be ready for the public to enjoy.
The city purchased the former Columbia Theatre building for $75,209 in January 2005 with plans to return the building to its cultural heyday of the 1950s and '60s when it showed newly released movies.
Volunteers, including Russeth, immediately began clearing out the building. But funding and architectural designs are holding up turning the theater into a cultural arts education center, said Ann Blalock, head of The Harlem Foundation, which oversees the renovation.
"We're waiting on the heating and AC specs to be drawn," Blalock said. "It is kind of a slump right now because of not having the stuff from the architect."
Blalock said she is awaiting responses from several grants that have been submitted. About $85,000 is needed for the first phase of construction to transform the former apartment and film rooms on the second floor and third floor building front into an area for teaching.
Anyone who makes a large enough donation can opt to name the building.
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