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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 8:01 pm | Fair 56º


Dunes Center Benefit to Unveil Dramatic Display of Film Set Sphinx Face

Artifacts from Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 movie 'The Ten Commandments' focus of 'Spinx & Drinks' at Guadalupe museum

Man near sphinx statue body. Click to view larger
Dunes Center Executive Director Doug Jenzen stands near a sphinx body from the 1923 film ‘The Ten Commandments.’ The newest discovery from the sands west of Guadalupe includes an incredibly intact sphinx face which will be unveiled a “Sphinx & Drinks” fundraiser July 21. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Doug Jenzen said he determined instantly that the newest treasure from the sandy tomb hiding the 1923 film set for "The Ten Commandments" deserved a different display.

Jenzen, executive director of the Dunes Center in Guadalupe, has seen his vision come alive, and will share it with others at the formal unveiling for the incredibly preserved sphinx face during the annual “Sphinx and Drinks” fundraiser July 21.

“This is probably the first time it’s been vertical since the ‘20s or ‘30s,” Jenzen said. “There’s something really spectacular about it,” 

The artifact, possibly the last sphinx, from Cecil B. DeMille's black-and-white movie filmed at the Guadalupe Dunes was rescued from a beach grave last fall during an excavation that encountered extreme temperature changes and rain, both of which put the plaster pieces in peril.

“All I knew walking into this is I wanted to get everything vertical so you aren’t looking down at pieces of sphinx. The challenge for the artists was to somehow take his plaster of paris that has been sitting at the beach for 94 years and mushy, and reinforce it and get it vertical in a way where it wasn’t going to fall over.”

“We wanted to get a 300-pound head vertical without touching it,” he said.

The process started in the field, where crews built a bracing system to reinforce the statue, provide something to grab on to, and ultimately allow the sphinx to sit on display vertically.

“The surprising aspect of this for me has been watching how closely engineering and art are tied together,’ he said. “Now I’m starting to notice it everywhere because both of those fields require you to create things that don’t exist yet.”

A system of pulleys and levers aided in raising the head upright yet secured by braces connected to the floor and ceiling of the Dunes Center. 

“It was amazing to watch. It really drives home why arts education is so important — those critical thinking skills.”

A sneak peek of the exhibits revealed a sphinx face that stands in front of a black background under dramatic lights.

Ear of Sphinx stature Click to view larger
A sneak peak shows the details of the new sphinx face being readied for its unveiling at the Dune Center in Guadalupe. The newest discoveries from the 1923 film ‘The Ten Commandments’ will be revealed during the 1920s-themed Sphinx &  Drinks benefit July 21 at the Dunes Center. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Every time I move that curtain, the look on people’s faces, it’s incredible,” Jenzen said.

This year’s gala to raise funds for community education programs begins at 5 p.m. July 21 at the Dunes Center, 1065 Guadalupe St.

Tickets cost $75 per person, with light appetizers by the Far Western Tavern along with a live auction, entertainment by The Tipsy Gypsies, and a 1923 Model T car for pictures. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

When the Dunes Center undertook the latest excavation, Jenzen said, he intended to get the body of the sphinx. A visit to a London museum showed a body without a face, providing a template for the Dunes Center, he said. 

But the shifting sand of the excavation process led to a revelation. 

“Even though we weren’t going after the head, the sand started moving away from the head, and it turned out it was slowly revealing itself,” he said. “And it was in pretty good shape.”

He quickly discovered that the sphinx face, not the hindquarters of the cat, intrigued most people, prompting a decision to switch the target of the excavation.

“It turned out to be the right decision; the head was in phenomenal shape,” he said. “It’s amazing looking.”

What is still buried in the sand remains uncertain as ground-penetrating radar proved difficult.

They know the movie set stood 12 stories tall and 720 feet wide. In all, there were some 21 sphinxes, some of which went to local residents while others were buried.

“It was ginormous, buried, either intentionally or by nature, so the only things we know that are out there are what the wind exposed,” he said, adding that excavation work focused on the sphinx because it was one of the few pieces able to fit in a building.

After deciding to retrieve the head, the rest of the sphinx remained buried with hopes lingering to line up archeologists, art restorers and the $150,000 cost for another excavation in the future.

“We’ll do it, if there’s enough support to do it,” Jenzen said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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