While Indian Searches, Few Seem To Find Him

POSTMARK: 'ON THE TRAIL' IN CLIFTON PARK

December 19, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

The unsmiling, muscled, bare-chested figure shades his eye with his left arm as he looks out over the glade toward Delaporte Grove. His left hand holds three arrows. The bow that once trailed from his right hand to the ground is missing. A stone ax rests in the leather thong holding up his breechcloth. He stands in ankle-high moccasins, knees slightly bent, on top of a giant boulder.

He is "On the Trail," a 7-foot, 4-inch bronze sculpture of an American Indian by Edward Berge, and his lonely resting place for 77 years has been in Clifton Park in Northeast Baltimore. Traffic speeds by him. Golfers at the Clifton Park course play through on both sides of his valley. Picnickers in Grove No. 5 across the road take no notice.

Hidden in plain sight.

"It may not be even be there anymore for all I know," says a Clifton Park employee when asked by phone for directions. (Fortunately, a Department of Recreation and Parks secretary has the precise location.)

"The Indian statue?" asks a golfer on the 12th green, on a hillside overlooking it. "Does it have something to do with the Naval Academy?"

Kysha Jones, 16, and her cousin, Theresa Jones, 14, sit on a see-saw in the picnic grove, talking after classes had let out at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, which sits over the hill from the bronze Indian's gaze.

"I've always wondered about the statue," Kysha says. "I didn't know what it was there for. I'd like to learn more about it."

"I come here a lot," Theresa says. "I just haven't noticed it."

At the scene, it's hard to find out much about the sculpture, including the name. A thick, 4-foot-high hedge of mostly yew grows closely around the bottom of the tall rock base, hiding the inscription. A close inspection of it reveals that "On the Trail" was a gift from the Peabody Institute trustees to the city. Peabody had purchased it through the William H. Rinehart Fund.

Oak trees, now bare for winter, grow on the hill behind the sculpture. They partially shade it in spring and summer, and scatter a brown carpet of leaves around it in fall.

Years of exposure to air pollution have turned the statue black, except for streaks of green on the calves of the legs. (In unpolluted air, an outdoor bronze sculpture naturally will turn a green color.)

The inspiration for the sculpture seems to have been lost over the years. Henry Berge, the sculptor's son, says he doesn't recall hearing what led his father to create the sculpture. But in one newspaper account written some years after the statue's placement, Mayor James H. Preston said he had the idea of "an Indian scout figure" and asked Edward Berge to do it.

The model was made in Paris while Edward Berge, a Baltimorean, studied there as a student of Auguste Rodin. The version in Clifton Park won a medal for Berge at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. The statue is one of several major sculptures by Edward Berge in Baltimore. (See accompanying box.)

In 1916, "On the Trail" became the first monument to be placed in the park, which in the 1800s had been part of Clifton, the summer estate of Johns Hopkins, founder of the hospital and university that bear his name. The city bought the property in 1895.

The statue was a favorite of Mayor Preston, who often drove his ZTC car there and sat looking at it. The mayor told the City Council in 1918 that the boulder base came from Deer Creek in Harford County and that he had played upon it there as a child.

Overall, "On the Trail" has led a mostly peaceful existence at its site about 800 feet north of the now-gone Lake Clifton, which was drained in 1964.

An exception to that tranquillity occurred in 1929, when a citizen wrote The Sun complaining that the city was allowing the site to become overgrown.

In a day when political correctness was not as high on the public agenda as it is today, a parks official replied haughtily that the Indian was in his natural setting. However, the bushes were trimmed three days later.

In 1945, vandals knocked the statue off its pedestal, damaging it. Henry Berge, a well-known sculptor in his own right, says he helped restore his father's work.

"The city asked me to make a new bow and arrows," says Mr. Berge, an 85-year-old resident of Roland Park who was 16 when his father died of a heart attack in 1924. "I made up new ones, based on photographs of the originals."

Mr. Berge admires his father's sculpture. "It's a careful study in anatomy," he says. "It's a good piece of sculpture but really not made for endurance in a public place. Parts like the bow and arrows are too easily broken off."

Mr. Berge was unaware until recently that the bow from "On the Trail" was missing again.

"I haven't seen the sculpture in a long time," he says.

ABOUT EDWARD BERGE

HIS LIFE: Born in Baltimore Jan. 3, 1876. Died in Baltimore Oct. 12, 1924. Studied at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Studied from 1898 to 1901 under Rodin in Paris.

SOME OTHER WORKS: Overlea War Memorial, Belair Road; Watson Monument, Mount Royal and North avenues; Armistead Monument, Fort McHenry; Mayor Ferdinand C. Latrobe statue, Baltimore Street and Broadway; Mayor Thomas Gordon Hayes statue, City Hall; the "Sea Urchin," once at Mount Vernon Place, now at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.