"His eyes light up," Zanotto says of Claude, still a work in progress after 19 years of effort.
Pipe wrenches, shovels, picks, sewing awls, worn farming tools and even an old-fashioned oven door helped spring Claude to life.
Zanotto climbs inside to operate the devices that open Claudes mouth, turn his head from side to side and to adjust the distance of fire that blasts through his nostrils. The sculptor hides behind the dragon's breastplate as curious of all ages appproach. He peeks through a hole in the dragon's scales -an array of shovelheads welded together- to watch the people react. "I can see their faces," he said, as hesitant children approach the dragon. "It looks real. "Youngsters commonly say, "I dont want him to bite me," he said. They beg their parents to hold their hand or themselves. I'd snap his jaw and it would send them into terror," he said of a spring venture to Beckwourth Park in Marysville, California. "I had dogs barking at him." When onlookers finally notice Zanotto operating the controls, he compares their astonishment to the curtain unveiling of the professor in the "Wizard of Oz."
Claude needed hundreds of hours of work to reach his current form, plus an unquantifiable amount of time thinking and dreaming.
Claude is now a real fire breathing dragon. Fire shoots from his nostrils by a continuous jet of propane ignited by electical coil igniters. Zanotto can control the flame up to 10 feet.
From his perch, north of Hallwood on Kibbee Road, in Marysville, The Dragon stands ready to go at a moments notice. Zanotto has a 2 ton truck with hydralic rams that can load the dragon in less than 10 minutes, and unload in the same amount of time. So transporting him is not even an issue. Someone wants him for a party? No problem!
The liviathan formely dazzled travelers along Highway 20 in Hallwood and rarely ventured out. Zanotto and the Dragon have now taken to the highway and has competed in the Yuba-Sutter Fair, Gridley Fair, Bok Kai Festivals, eight different appearances in the Scottish Games in various cities in California. Claude has been displayed in the Yuba City Mall and has participated in the Gridley Christmas Parade in which 525 strings of light were wrapped around his entire body. He has won many awards, ribbons and best of shows.
Zanotto has stood countless hours at the belly of Claude, (which is where the antique oven door opens up to gain access to Claudes controls) helping children climb in and take control of the dragon. "Sometimes the line of kids gets so long, I have to start limiting their time so all the kids get a turn."
While his job pays the bills, his unusual art ranks as Zanotto's passion.
His other creations include a rooster, a rat, a stork and he's now in the process of creating a life-size mermaid! He combines his welding prowess with the skills acquired as a systems engineer in the Navy to persue his art. Without formal training, he turned to his world travels to Singapore, Pakistan and Europe into study sessions, paying close attention to carvings, sculpture and classic art.
"I like the idea of creating something that people will just flip out over," he said. Anticipating future generations might appreciate his creations. Zanotto said he built the Dragon to last. "I like the idea of people 500 years from now looking at him." Like the timeless works of his famous Italian ancestor, 17th century artist, Antonio Canova, Zanotto "looks forward to leaving something behind."
His creator admitted Claude turned out far different than the vision of a horse's head that first came to mind while comtemplating the possibilities from an odd-shaped piece of wood. "The nostrils changed the whole thing," Zanotto said, after finding the peculiar wooden shapes that became Claude's nose.
With Zanotto's artistic eye, throw away junk, wood or metal takes on a new deminsion. "Just about anything that has a shape I can throw on there," he said.