Eternal question: What do people see in lawn balls?

September 10, 1991|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Evening Sun Staff

Out on Pulaski Highway, in the approximate vicinity of the Blue Star Motel and the Checkered Flag Go Kart Racing Track, Pat Guldan is searching furiously through her metal address box, that glint of frustration in her eye one more time.

"Why!" she snaps. "Everybody wants to know why. Almost four decades and still I don't know why."

The elusive answer, it seems, transcends nations, solar systems and time itself.

At Pat's Concrete, of which she is the Pat, the mysteries of untying the Gordian Knot and comprehending Stonehenge fade to insignificance.

Why, this Queen of Concrete wants to discover, do people purchase those mirrored balls and mount them on their lawns?

Guldan's White Marsh shop is one of the few outlets in the state for these strange, glowing tributes to '50s kitsch.

The hand-blown glass globes, about the size of a regulation basketball, come in red, gold, blue, silver, purple and green. They are perched atop concrete pedestals and found on lawns from Ferndale to Frostburg. One witness spotted them as far afield as Richmond, Mo., and Alberta, Canada, a testimony to tastes beyond the boundaries of the Free State.

"Old people, young people, they're all fascinated by them," explained Guldan, giving up on her attempt to locate the ball manufacturer in the collection of index cards, scribbled notes and matchbook covers that reside in the metal box.

She said she thinks it's somebody near Cleveland.

"After I-95 opened in the mid-1950s, our business slowed down but we still have lots of out-of-state people come along and ask for them," she explained.

"One man came in last year, from Baltimore City, and bought one for his living room," she said. "Another man, a guy who lived in Ruxton Towers, picked one up for his balcony."

"Yeah," said Guldan's 18-year-old granddaughter Tammy, "I have blue one in my bedroom. I have it right by the window where it catches the light and reflects."

Historically, there are several hypotheses about the origin of the globes.

Irma Sangiamo, a librarian at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, said they might date back to the Salem witch hunts started by the Puritans in 1692.

It seems a 9-year-old minister's daughter one day gazed upon a clear crystal ball. Immediately, the poor girl dropped to her knees and barked and whimpered like a dog. Other children did the same.

So, the Puritans placed colored mirrored balls in their windows to keep evil spirits away from their cabins and keep down the barking.

Today, "some people might view them as tacky but they are nice to look at," said Sangiamo. "They can be garden ornaments. They can be anything you want them to be. I saw one on a lawn Hampden just last week."

On the other hand, Guldan said, legend has it that the reflective ball was born in Bavaria, where the shiny globe was placed in gardens and on farms to drive off birds, "just like those shiny pie plates do today."

If there's an appropriate location for the reflective balls, it's at Guldan's, a veritable jungle of concrete statues and fountains. There are painted statues everywhere: 500-pound deer, St. Francis of Assisi, whales, kissing pigs, pagodas, Madonnas, sea horses, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, fire plugs, mermaids and gnomes.

The religious statues, for instance, have given Guldan a depth known only to a few theologians.

"I have three versions of Mary," Guldan said. "Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes. And, do you know the patron saint of sight? It's St. Lucy. Her statue holds a saucer with two eyes in it."

As might be anticipated, her products have brought some strange requests over the years.

One woman from Forest Hill desired a matching pair of concrete Canova lions. Nothing basically wrong there. But the customer wanted holes drilled through the reclining cats for a miniature golf course that was planned for her living room.

"I once delivered two Grecian statues down to two lawyers in Arlington, Va.," Guldan said. "Now they had some house."

And, it seems, statues of fishing boys have been popular recently with visitors from New Jersey. She also sells pre-made concrete tables and benches.

Guldan, 54, is part artist, part laborer. She hand paints most of her statuary and makes many of her concrete statues from her own molds, including her works of pride, a 5-foot-high lighthouse and 21-piece Nativity scene.

When she can, Guldan personally delivers her statues in a 1974 red Ford Ranger truck, two silver stallions rearing on the hood. Guldan also operates her own forklift.

She fully understands why people might take home a concrete burro for their front lawn or the ubiquitous pink flamingo to spruce up the yard.

But the reflecting ball is different. "It's a mystery to me," Guldan says, after all these years, out on Pulaski Highway.

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