Eric Maurer of Blairstown, N.J., was still in his 20s when he was working on a small domed structure to be used for offices at a factory in Bath, back in the late 1970s.
"This is exactly what I need," he remembers the late Charles C. Dent saying when Dent, a recently retired airline pilot, stopped by for a look.
In no time at all, Maurer was among those working to construct a similar dome, but much larger, in lovely Upper Macungie Township, just a couple of miles from the Berks County line.
Dent's big domed studio would give birth to something enormous — a 15-ton, 24-foot-high bronze horse, more than five centuries in the making. The statue represents an obsession that dominated much of Dent's life.
The world's most magnificent horse statue, Leonardo da Vinci's "Il Cavallo," now stands in Milan, Italy, where there is a bit of a fuss over its exact location.
I was not aware of the fuss until Maurer's sister, Sally Jo Lawrence, who works in The Morning Call's advertising department, called my attention to a New York Times article published Sunday. The people of Milan, wrote Elisabetta Povoledo, are "in a debate about how to make the most of a gift horse: a colossal bronze steed presented by a group of American donors."
Leonardo's horse now towers over the thousands of people entering the San Siro racetrack in the outskirts of Milan, and also is seen by even more entering the nearby San Siro football (we call it soccer) stadium, one of Europe's most famous.
Some Italians say it should be moved to an even more prominent location, such as Sforza Castle in the heart of Milan, where the World Exposition will start in May of next year. They regard the gift of that bronze horse, The New York Times story said, as "a cultural monument akin to the Statue of Liberty," an epic gift to America by the people of France.
"Conceived nearly four decades ago by a retired airline pilot, Charles C. Dent of Allentown, Pa.," the Times story said, "the bronze statue was intended as a gift from the American people to their Italian counterparts."
I have been writing about that statue and about Dent, the uncle of Lehigh Valley congressman Charles W. Dent, since I spotted that odd-looking studio in 1992 during my bicycle rides from Trexlertown to the pleasant rural roads of Berks County.
Being the nosy type, I stopped to ask what sort of building it was, and was mesmerized by what Dent was trying to do.
Dent, a passionate art collector in addition to being a pilot, told me he had been inspired by Leonardo's genius, back in the 15th century, when it came to aeronautics. He also learned about a monumental work of art — Il Cavallo — that was destroyed by war before Leonardo was able to make a final casting.
Dent and I, by the way, shared a pet peeve. The artist's name was Leonardo. The "da Vinci" part means "of Vinci" and refers to his family's home town. Nobody refers to our president as "of Honolulu."
Anyway, in October 1994, then-state Rep. Charles W. Dent told me his uncle was ailing, with Lou Gehrig's disease, and I visited him again at his home adjacent to the domed studio. "The project is more important to me than ever," he said, saying he had arranged for the sale of his art treasures to help pay for it.
Charles C. Dent died the following Christmas Day, but his project lived on, thanks to many others who pitched in, and in 1999 I went to the famed Tallix Art Foundry in Beacon, N.Y., for the unveiling of the completed statue, with the project now in the hands of sculptor Nina Akamu.
Il Cavallo was dedicated in Milan later that year, and now there's a movement to make it a centerpiece of next year's World Expo. "We need to persuade people that the current [location] is not dignified and doesn't correspond to the spirit in which the gift was given," Carlo Orlandini, president of Italy's Committee for the Great Horse, was quoted in the Times as saying.
Congressman Dent told me he is happy with the current location, where thousands regularly see the statue and can read a plaque that tells of his uncle's work to finish Leonardo's creation, but a move to the center of Milan would be even better.
"My uncle always wanted it in the courtyard of the Castle Sforza," he said. (Leonardo originally intended the statue to honor Milanese Duke Francesco Sforza.)
"In the end," said Peter Dent, the congressman's brother, who has been at the forefront of the project, "it's up to the people of Milan to decide." He noted he's also happy with the present location, where up to 90,000 horse racing or soccer fans can see the statue at a time, but others "want to honor the horse and bring it downtown."
Maurer, the man who helped Charles C. Dent build his domed studio, said he has been to Milan to see the statue.
"It took me a while to find the thing," he said. "It's in an obscure part of a racetrack."
Anyway, the Lehigh Valley is now known in Europe mainly for the world-class Trexlertown bicycle racing velodrome, a couple of miles east of Dent's studio.
After next year's World Expo, no matter what happens in the debate over Il Cavallo's location, it may be that studio that puts the Lehigh Valley on the global map.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays