Saving the Kahiki's Iconic Tiki Statue

Bob Vitale
Tony Ball of Tork Collaborative Arts in his studio with George

The most cherished concrete monkey in Columbus has spent the last five years outdoors. It survived an overzealous fan who climbed in its mouth and thrust a foot right through to its base. It’s been hoisted with belts and cranes more than once. George, possibly the only piece of statuary left from the long-mourned Kahiki Supper Club, shows all of his nearly 59 years.

The old guy needs some work.

Since the August closing of Grass Skirt Tiki Room, where George kept watch outside the front door, his owners have been trying to figure out what’s next for the 8-foot, 1,500-pound monkey—or pig, as the ambiguous animal was once considered.

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Here are the steps they’ll take to restore his youthful luster:

Step 1: A thorough physical exam

Since George arrived at their South Side studio in November, Tork Collaborative Arts owners Tony and Tracie Ball have been getting a good look at how the statue was created.

George, along with two 16-foot, fire-spouting stone moai heads that stood outside the Kahiki, was created in 1961 by Columbus artist Philip E. Kientz, whose portfolio also included Mr. Tree of Lazarus Christmas fame and the original COSI’s Street of Yesteryear. Kientz produced the statue on a rebar-and-iron-mesh shell. It’s filled out with concrete and a stuccolike surface textured to look like lava rock.

“I don’t think anything is wrong with that interior structure,” Tracie says. “He made it very well. He made it to last.”

Step 2: Undo past mistakes

Remnants of a now-unreliable concrete base present the toughest problem. Tony plans to get rid of the whole thing; he envisions a steel platform upon which the piece will sit.

But here’s the rub: The base is so heavy it makes lifting George risky. And in order to cut the base off, George must be lifted. The Balls plan to seek advice from engineers and architects.

“You have this amazing sculpture, but it’s sitting on a teeter-totter,” Tony says.

Step 3: Fix structural problems

George has myriad cracks and stress fractures that got worse with exposure to the elements.

Although the Balls plan to stay true to Kientz’s vision—molds will be taken of his texturing so it’s reproduced precisely—they do plan to upgrade materials for this job. Glass fiber-reinforced concrete, for example, weighs about 40 percent less than what was available in 1961.

Step 4: A little cosmetic work

Photos show George with varying patterns and colors, but Tracie thinks she’s found the originals. A quarter-sized chip of paint missing from the bright orange helmet exposes metallic gold underneath. Paint peeling off the brim reveals a palette of black, red and turquoise in a pattern of dots, bars and swirls.

Once completed, he’ll be moved to his next home, which has yet to be determined. The Fraternal Order of Moai, a society of tiki aficionados that bought George in 2013, hasn’t set a timetable for the renovation. Members are asking fellow tiki fans to chip in, and they’ve raised nearly $7,000 since the campaign began in September.

“To me, George is just as important as King Gambrinus,” founder Matt Thatcher says, referencing the famous Brewery District statue. “They’re both part of our history.”


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