Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

“It certainly qualifies as an odd job.”

Meghan Overdeep
September 28, 2018

There’s no denying that in the five years it has spent at its very public perch, the glimmering 17-foot sculpture outside Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has become Charlotte’s unofficial mascot.

Created in 1991 by French-American sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, the iconic installation has resided in Bechtler plaza since 2009. The “Firebird” is covered from top to bottom in tiny pieces of mirrored and colored glass and has become a popular tourist destination and photo backdrop.

But the life of a glass-covered public figure isn’t an easy one. Pieces of its gleaming exterior often fall victim to the wear and tear of everyday life, the elements and disrespectful visitors.

That’s why the Firebird is so lucky to have a friend like Clayton Venhuizen.

The Charlotte Observer recently caught up with Venhuizen, the man responsible for caring for Charlotte’s fragile landmark, to learn more about what it takes to maintain it.

According to Venhuizen, it’s people not the elements that pose the greatest risk to the installation (it emerged from Florence unscathed!). “An occasional broken mirror can be expected, since the piece is out in the open, but the majority of the damage seems to come from skateboards, carts, scooters, bikes, runaway luggage or vandalism,” he explained.

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Venhuizen, who entered this niche field in 2011 during preparations for the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition at the museum, does repair work on the Firebird four times a year—a task that usually takes three full days in a row.

The North Carolina-native told the Observer that his main task is measuring and cutting the glass to fix the Firebird’s damaged tiles. Each piece is unique and must be cut with precise measurements. It “certainly qualifies as an odd job,” he joked.

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

When he’s not treating the soaring sculpture and other local art exhibits to a spa day, Venhuizen is a bit of a Renaissance man.

“When I’m not doing that, I’m a dad, a musician—I’m primarily a piano player and aspiring singer/songwriter, and I perform occasionally at open mics in the area when I can work up the nerve— a marathon runner and an avid tinkerer,” he said.

If you ask us, it sounds like the Firebird found a kindred spirit.