State funds bronze streetscape

January 30, 1995|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Although William Donald Schaefer opened or dedicated a flurry of state buildings before leaving office this month, he left some of the most unusual projects of his administration to be unveiled by his successor.

They include miniature bronze replicas of a doghouse and a tepee. There also are an igloo, a mobile home and a lighthouse.

All are part of a simulated streetscape -- a sculpture titled "Dwellings" -- that will be installed in the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at a cost to Maryland taxpayers of $100,000.

Jody Albright, director of the governor's office on art and culture, said the sculpture by Philadelphia artist Todd Noe represents an effort to enhance the library and stimulate the imaginations of those who visit it. The $5.3 million building opened in 1993 at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and Franklin Street in Baltimore.

"We talked to [then-librarian] Lance Finney at the time, and he felt that the number of people who would be using the facility would justify the commission," she said.

"In a library, there are so many stories that can be told. I think it lends itself to a lot of imagination in its usage. It's much more than ornamentation. It's educational. It's an imaginary street. I think it's wonderful."

Mrs. Albright said the work's tactile qualities will make it meaningful to visually impaired children and adults.

"I really think that's important," she said. "You can have children go up to it and talk about it. What about the doghouse? Who lives in there? It comes alive when you put on your thinking cap and tell stories about it."

Library director Sharron McFarland said the project was commissioned before she began working there.

"I've only seen a small mock-up," she said. "I'm waiting to see it on the wall. Everyone should be able to have his or her own opinion. . . . The one I do enjoy is the lighthouse, because I'm from Annapolis and that means something to me."

Mrs. McFarland echoed Mrs. Albright's hope that it will make people think.

"You can use your imagination," she said. "That's the beauty of it."

In June, Maryland's Board of Public Works approved a request from Mrs. Albright's office to spend $100,000 for the sculpture, the money coming from the state's Art in Public Spaces Program.

The artist was selected by a citizen panel that included Amalie Rothschild, an area artist; Michele Moure, director of visual arts for the Maryland State Arts Council; Mr. Finney, the former librarian; Leslie King-Hammond, dean of graduate studies for the Maryland Institute, College of Art; and Jim Wheeler of Ayers-Saint-Gross Inc., the library's designer.

Scheduled for completion by spring, the sculpture will consist of 12 bronze shelves, mounted in a 20-foot row along one wall of the library's main reading room.

Each shelf will hold a three-dimensional bronze depiction of a dwelling. Six to 10 inches high and bolted to the shelves, the bronze pieces will be labeled in Braille and set at a height that will enable people in wheelchairs to see and touch them.

The dozen forms also include a frame house, log cabin, temple, tent, mobile home, apartment building, castle and thatched hut -- averaging out to a cost of $8,333.33 each.

In a written project description, Mr. Noe said the dwellings symbolize "the differences and similarities found in human civilizations."

For example, he said, the tepee, igloo, tent and mobile home "signify our nomadic nature and wanderlust." The lighthouse is a symbol of "guidance and hope," he continued, while the doghouse "shows another side of humankind, our need to domesticate and dominate."

Current and former legislators who were asked about the $100,000 sculpture said they did not know about it and were not in a position to comment. Former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a frequent critic of Mr. Schaefer's expenditures, declined to offer an opinion. "I'd have to see it first," he said.

In late 1993, one of the selection panel members expressed concern that most of the buildings reflected a Euro-centric view of dwellings and urged that the sculptor include more symbols of other cultures. Mr. Noe subsequently replaced a New England-style church with a thatched-roof hut.

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