Fountain repairs to end Mount Vernon dry spell Overhaul: Fractured and long out of use, the two water ornaments in downtown Baltimore are being fixed and should be cascading anew next spring.

October 03, 1997|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

An overhaul of the 77-year-old fountains in Mount Vernon Place's formal squares promises to bring back water cascades, sprays and pools early next spring.

A construction crew has started rebuilding the pair of water ornaments -- landmarks within the parks facing the Peabody Conservatory and the Walters Art Gallery -- where water pipes corroded, pumps broke and cracks fractured the masonry pools.

For much of the past decade, the fountains beloved by residents and penny tossers have weathered the summers in a dry state. A sea urchin went without its wishing well, and a water nymph had no lake to frolic in.

"I was at the Book Festival over the weekend, and at least three people came up to me and said they were delighted the fountains were being repaired," said George G. Balog, director of Baltimore's Department of Public Works, the agency spending about $339,500 for fountain restoration.

The fountains, with their elaborately carved limestone basins, set off two of the Mount Vernon neighborhood's most recognized bronze sculptures: a depiction of a joyful child holding a clam, Edward Berge's "Sea Urchin," and a water nymph, "Naiad," by Grace Turnbull.

Both works of art were removed for safekeeping this year, well before the arrival of a construction crew that disassembled the Beaux Arts-style park fountains installed in 1920 when the parks were redesigned by New York architects Carrere and Hastings.

The fountains, terraced into the hill that climbs to the Washington Monument's base, require new reinforced concrete bases -- including pools with new intake valves, spray rings and cascade pumps.

A child playing in a tide pool off the Maine coast was the inspiration for the "Sea Urchin," a scene that Baltimore sculptor Edward Berge sketched and later sculpted using a young female model.

Placed in the limestone fountain setting outside the main entrance of the Walters Art Gallery's 1907 building, the statue has long enjoyed high visibility, becoming a sight familiar to evening commuters, local sketchers and photographers. Its base pool -- when filled with water -- was a favorite wishing well for

penny tossers.

But as popular as the "Sea Urchin" has been with local strollers, the bronze sculpture of the little girl holding the clam has fascinated vandals as well. It was removed from its base in 1932 and recovered from a nearby back porch. Another vandal damaged it about a decade later. It was not set back on its pedestal until the mid-1940s.

The statue was replaced in 1961 because some observers considered the first version of "Sea Urchin" too small at 42 inches high. The will of Frederick R. Huber, managing director of the Lyric Opera House, left $7,000 for a larger version -- about 7 feet -- of the same "Sea Urchin," made by Henry Berge, the son of its creator. The new urchin appeared in 1961. The 1926 version was moved to a garden pool near the president's home on the grounds of the Johns Hopkins University.

In the fountain reconstruction, the "Sea Urchin" will get a new granite base.

The base "will last longer than you and I, longer than our children," said Karl Philhower, a manager of Hilgartner Natural Stone, the local company supplying the charcoal granite base, which is being cut and shaped in Minnesota of durable local stone.

"Naiad," a title that refers to water nymphs of Greek and Roman mythology, was completed in 1932. Grace Turnbull, a Baltimore sculptor who lived in Guilford and died in 1976 at age 96, observed her model striking a dramatic pose during a rest period. That moment supplied Turnbull with an idea that she cast in bronze.

"Naiad" was placed in the east square, near the Peabody Conservatory, in 1962 in honor of the annual Flower Mart sponsored by the Women's Civic League.

Work on both fountains is expected to be finished this fall, but the water will not be turned on until spring, after the danger of a freeze has passed.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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