Shaping interest in sculpture

October 15, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

They're out there, all over the place, some 250 of them, at schools, in parks, in front of major public buildings, on street corners. Chances are you pass by at least one on your daily rounds; chances are you don't even notice it. That's what Cindy Kelly wants to change.

"They" are Baltimore's outdoor sculptures, and Ms. Kelly knows where they all are. She spent the past year recording them, from the familiar to the obscure; from the Barye lion in Mount Vernon Place to the "What Not" in West Baltimore to the panel from the old Post Office downtown that now resides in Roland Park.

"I learned a great deal about the city and its history, and learned to appreciate it more," Ms. Kelly says, "and I want lots more people to feel that way."

Because if more people feel that way, maybe the sculptures will have a better chance of survival.

It's all part of a national project called Save Outdoor Sculpture, and in Baltimore it has progressed from the research phase to the interest-the-public, build-a-constituency phase. To which end there is a series of tours this month and next, culminating with a Nov. 20 symposium exploring the past, present and future of public sculpture. All these activities are open to the public, some free and some for a small fee; and if symposium sounds intimidating, Ms. Kelly emphasizes that "it's not just for professionals in the field, but for citizens of Baltimore."

From the first of three Columbus monuments in Baltimore, an obelisk erected in 1792 and now residing at Harford Road and Walther Boulevard, to sculptor Bart Walter's sea otters installed at the Baltimore Zoo last May, Baltimore like other cities has amassed a major collection of outdoor sculpture. But for a long time, nobody thought of preserving this collection from various assaults including time, pollution and vandalism.

Actually, Baltimore was a pioneer in recognizing the need for preservation. In 1981, it became the first city in the United States to inaugurate a conservation program for publicly owned municipal sculptures, and the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation now has a program to care for about four dozen of them, of which the best-known are in Mount Vernon Place.

So CHAP eagerly responded when Save Outdoor Sculpture was inaugurated about a year ago. A joint project of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art in Washington and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, S.O.S. offered grants to communities to record their sculptures. Baltimore received a grant of $18,000, administered by CHAP with Ms. Kelly, a free-lance consultant on public art, as the project director.

Aided by local artist Linda De Palma and two college-student interns, Ms. Kelly has spent the past year surveying sculpture, and the results have now been sent to the national Save Outdoor Sculpture library at the NMAA. There they have become part of a data base on sculptures in communities across the country.

The Baltimore surveyors found sculpture in a variety of ways. Some, such as those on Mount Vernon Place, are well-known. Others they located from the work of previous researchers, including a survey done over a period of a decade by enthusiasts Henry and Caroline Naylor.

Others were found through documents related to Baltimore's percent-for-art program, under which up to 1 percent of the cost of publicly funded buildings is set aside for art to decorate them. In 1964, Baltimore became the second city in the country (after Philadelphia the year before) to enact percent-for-art legislation, and the program has since added a large number of works due to this program. In fact, of the 246 sculptures identified by Ms. Kelly, 98 date up to 1960 and 148 date from 1960 to the present, thanks to percent-for-art.

A few sculptures were found by an appeal to Baltimore's 650 neighborhood associations to make their area's sculptures known to the surveyors. Among them is a stone bas relief, with a symbolic scene representing agriculture and industry, sitting in front of a house in the 400 block of Woodlawn Road in Roland Park.

No one seems to know how it got there, but it's known to be one of a number of such panels -- maybe 20 or more -- created to adorn the United States Post Office building at Fayette and Calvert streets, erected in the 1880s and torn down about 1930 for the post office building that replaced it. Only two of the sculptures, executed by English artist John Monroe, are known to have survived. The other, with a scene that may represent arts and sciences, rests outside a Parks and Recreation Department building at Madison Avenue and Druid Park Lake Drive.

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