Return of the giant crab Airport art: County and aviation officials should split the cost of displaying whimsical sculpture.

December 18, 1998

RETURNING AN oversized stained-glass crab to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport concourse has unnecessarily devolved into a clash involving Anne Arundel County government, the Maryland Aviation Administration and the Shady Side artists who created the work.

County Executive Janet S. Owens wants the crab back at the airport. As she told the BWI Business Partnership, the 400-pound, 5-foot-tall crustacean is a fitting symbol for Maryland. For a much of a dozen years, it adorned BWI's concourse. Some folks loved the crustacean. Some didn't. But the sculpture attracted a lot of attention, even a cult following. It was removed during renovation a few years ago, but the piece would complement the giant scenes of Chesapeake Bay country that adorn the ticket counter area.

Anne Arundel County is prepared to pay $5,000 to restore the crab, which suffered damage during two moves and extended storage. But the county has difficulty accepting the aviation authority's demand that the county also pay for a $14,000 glass case to display it. Perhaps the best resolution is for the county and MAA to split the cost of the enclosure.

The other sticking point involves the artists. John and Jackie Leatherbury Douglass, who created the crab in 1984, are unhappy that the county chose another artisan -- at a substantially lower cost -- to restore the work. They are convinced that the restoration, replacing about 30 pieces of cracked glass, will diminish the integrity of the work.

Obviously, the Douglasses have a great attachment to their creation. But once they turned it over to the county for $20,000 in private and public money, they lost all claim to it. More important to them should be the fact that their work has an ally in Ms. Owens and may finally be freed from mothballs to be viewed again by millions of travelers.

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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