Water power Cool: Local fountians make a splash on hot summer days.

UP FRONT

August 15, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

"If there is magic on this planet," the environmentalist Loren Eiseley once observed, "it is contained in water."

And if there is a container for magic in the heart of the city, it is the fountain.

Large or small, simple or elaborate, fountains have an ability to soothe and refresh like nothing else in the landscape. The sight and sound of moving water can be especially welcome in the middle of August.

Fortunately, the Baltimore area has no shortage of public fountains and pools. Some were constructed for utilitarian purposes, such as watering horses. Others were created as part of the city's long tradition of building statuary and monuments. And more than a few are broken or in need of some repair.

Following are descriptions of 10 area fountains that are well worth a visit. They represent just a sampling of the many fountains that can be found throughout the region -- delights for both first-time visitors and fountain aficionados who return again and again.

McKeldin Fountain

Pratt and Light streets

Designed by Wallace, Roberts & Todd (1981)

Named for Theodore R. McKeldin, former governor of Maryland and twice mayor of Baltimore, this $3.6 million fountain and plaza marks the ceremonial entrance to the redeveloped Inner Harbor -- a project McKeldin initiated. It's also part of a skywalk system that enables pedestrians to move from the Baltimore Convention Center to the harbor shoreline without crossing busy streets.

The multitiered fountain consists of cascading waterfalls and shallow pools, interspersed with walkways and plantings. It was intended to symbolize the source of the Chesapeake Bay in the mountains of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia. Water is pumped to the bridge level at the top. Then it plunges in sheets and sprays to street level, passing around and through stairs and paths that provide access to the skywalk. It's one of the only fountains in the country that people literally can walk through.

The same firm designed the France-Merrick Fountain at the northwest corner of Pratt and Charles streets, an abstract work that has been described as a mini-Stonehenge with water.

The Dolphins

Pier 4 Inner Harbor (between the National Aquarium's Marine Mammal Pavilion and the Power Plant)

Leonard Streckfus, artist (1990)

From a distance, passers-by will recognize the graceful lines of five bronze sculptures that convey the agility and fluid movement of dolphins, leaping from a triangular pool. A closer look reveals elements that resemble the odds and ends of everyday life -- shovels and bicycle parts, sled runners and watering cans. The dolphins are actually made of castings of artifacts gathered by local artist Leonard Streckfus, who has been creating animal sculptures from found objects for more than a decade.

For this piece, Streckfus used bicycle and tricycle frames to make up the dolphins' skeletons and smaller objects to fill out the composition and convey a sense of movement. In one dolphin, a motorcycle helmet forms the head; the runner of a sled is the backbone, and fan parts become dorsal flippers. For a dolphin calf, a bowling pin forms the bottlenose and a Christmas tree stand becomes part of the head. Small jets of water beneath each figure create splashes that further suggest movement.

The fountain was designed to have a wave-making feature that generates the sort of choppy waves found far out in the ocean, but it never worked properly. Still, the fountain successfully evokes the playfulness of dolphins frolicking in the water, as well as mankind's penchant for discarding objects that later pose a threat to creatures in the wild.

Mount Vernon Place fountains

In the East, West and South Gardens around the Washington Monument, Charles and Monument streets

Much of the charm of Mount Vernon Place is due to works of art, such as these fountains.

Sea Urchin, in the south garden, depicts a young girl balancing on a sea urchin, her arms outstretched in glee. Cast in 1961 by Henry Berge, it is a larger version of a sculpture by Henry's father, Edward Berge. The original can be found on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University.

The Naiad, created in 1933 by Grace Turnbull, has graced the East Garden since 1962. Donated by the Women's Civic League, it depicts a female figure in a dramatic pose.

The Boy and Turtle Fountain, in the West Garden, was created by Henri Crenier of Mamaroneck, N.Y. It depicts a boy balancing on one foot and looking down at a turtle, who looks back up at him. Water spurts from the turtle's mouth, and other jets rise from a cluster of simulated cattails around the base.

The sculpture was set there in 1923 as part of a temporary exhibit mounted by the fledgling Baltimore Museum of Art. It was considered so perfect for the West Garden that the Municipal Art Society raised funds to buy it and keep it in place after the exhibit closed.

Jacob France Memorial Fountain

Hopkins Plaza, Charles Center

Designed by RTKL Associates (1967)

J. Jefferson Miller Fountain

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