SACO, Maine — Planetary artist Janet Echelmen installed a billowy, voluminous sculpture above Vancouver for this week’s international TED conference.

As the colorful, site-specific aerial piece danced between buildings hundreds of miles away, an imaginary support line stretched all the way to Maine.

Anchoring this immense, free-floating installation is a complex web of rope custom made at Yale Cordage in Saco.

“It was designed not only for the strength [Echelmen] needed, but the look and design she needed,” said Skip Yale, sales manager for the rope manufacturer who was called in to help.

Using durable fiber from Honeywell called Spectra, Yale Cordage created a 12-strand hollow braided rope for the artist’s latest and largest project. The ambitious sculpture spans 745 feet and is anchored atop a hotel and the Vancouver Convention Centre where TED2014, a conference that celebrates technology, entertainment and design, is being held.

Because the sculpture changes shape naturally, it had to be “durable, strong and also light to float in the wind,” said Yale, who talked with the artist and her design team to engineer the piece called “ Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks.”

Though Honeywell had worked with the Guggenheim fellow, who creates large-scale, amoebalike pieces (think yarn bombs gone astral), Yale Cordage had not. When the artist called, the decades-old family-run company was up for the task.

“We love these types of things,” said Yale. “It was a challenging time frame; things had to be done very quickly.”

They had four weeks to come up with a rope that could support the public piece that is subject to the elements and the rigors of traveling the globe.

The rope maker turns innovative fibers into different types of line. Their main clients are utility companies, the military, arborists and a spectrum of marine users. Lately, Yale Cordage is getting a reputation for specialty use.

In 2012, the daredevil Nik Wallenda walked over Niagara Falls using a Yale Cordage rope to anchor his tightrope cable.The high-wire artist did a similar stunt in the Grand Canyon with the help of the Saco company.

“We don’t shy away from these projects that are outside the box,” said Yale. “We like to be involved in the design and construction phase.”

The company has come a long way since Yale’s grandfather started making twine for lobstermen and fishermen in Yarmouth in 1950. Skip’s uncle Tom Yale, a sailor, joined the company in 1970. They were the first to add color to rope. Now they have cleared another first, debuting at TED in Vancouver.

“It’s neat. I’d really like to see it in person,” said Yale. “They are very interesting the way they change color and move.”

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.