Baltimore fun on the go

Entries: Several tributes to the city powered the American Visionary Art Museum's fifth annual Kinetic Sculpture Race.

April 27, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

After the opening song played on kazoos and a blessing of the feet, which involved people lying in front of the American Visionary Art Museum with their legs in the air, a yellow duck made of milk cartons and a 14-foot pink poodle named Fifi made their way to the Inner Harbor.

As if John Waters was hallucinating it, a papier-mache teapot slid down the boat ramp in Canton. An elephant made of 2,000 plastic, powder-blue pom-poms with a pantyhose Buddha trudged through a sand pit at Patterson Park. And random spectators in Federal Hill were wearing red-lipped smiles on Popsicle sticks.

In all, more than two dozen human-powered sculptures on bicycles moved through town yesterday as part of the fifth annual American Visionary Art Museum's Kinetic Sculpture Race.

This being Baltimore, it barely turned heads.

Lesley Simmons, 41, stepped onto her stoop in the drizzle yesterday morning with her twin 2-year-old daughters as if it was normal to see a very large frog racing down Riverside Avenue.

"I think it's pretty cool," she said, adding that she was prepared for the scene because Catholic Community School nearby had built the 12-foot-high yellow duck, which the 37 middle school pupils named "Daley" after their teacher, Kate Daley.

"It reminds me a little bit of the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia or Mardi Gras in New Orleans," said Larry Piercy, 50, of Middle River. "We need more fun like this in Baltimore."

Piercy's 14-year-old son, Ryan, helped build the bulldog sculpture entered by the Kennedy Krieger School. The sculpture was accompanied by an invisible dog whose leash was visible atop the bicycle that powered it.

Although the event is officially a race to qualify for the World Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race in Ferndale, Calif., the winner was not the first team that finished the 15-mile course from Federal Hill to Canton and back. It was Bedlam of Rising Sun, created by husband and wife Bobby Hansson and Maggie Creshkoss, that placed in the middle and earned the "coveted Mediocre Award."

For sculptors David Hess and Karl Saar, from Phoenix in Baltimore County, the race was an opportunity to work with a different medium. It is not every day that an artist sculpts chicken wire and sediment fence -- that plastic stuff often found around construction sites -- which made decent fur for their giant black dog.

Hess' 8-year-old son, Eli, was the captain of the piece they called Louie's Bone Wagon, and helped navigate the Styrofoam pontoons and pedal the bikes.

"It's fun to work so intensely on a project," said David Hess. "We just started it on Monday. We've gotten eight or nine hours of sleep in the past three days."

It took the artists who created the Madhatters Teapot about 60 days to build their sculpture in Holly Tominack's garage in Little Italy. With custom bikes built by Tom Bruni and teaspoon-shaped paddles fashioned by Frank Conan, the group took their entry out in Canton several days ago to test it on the water.

"I was surprised how many people instantly recognized it," said Kini Collins. "This whole thing is goofy but it's a lot of fun."

Collins, who also serves as event coordinator for the Friends of Patterson Park, helped arrange it so that the ceremony for the reopening of the boat lake occurred just before the race came through the park for the obstacle course.

"This way the two crowds were able to come together," she said.

Park supporters had just finished releasing the eight turtles, affectionately known as the Patterson Park Eight, into the water when the sculptures made their way up a hill.

At that point, an Ultimate Frisbee team from Washington was roughly in the "mediocre" position. With a white medic tent covering the bicycles they were pedaling backward, the group called its sculpture the SARS Patrol.

Entering the race was not the first crazy thing the group, which calls itself Ghut, has done, said Jay Gelman, 28, of Mount Pleasant. The members have formed a band called Sound Check that tunes instruments before their audiences instead of playing music.

Visionary Art Museum volunteers Edward Hohman, 23, of Fells Point and Christian Pearce, 31, of Fallston said they were asked to enter the race in the popular pink flamingo. "Someone must have sensed our skills to pilot a giant pink bird," said Hohman.

Pearce said they were prepared to pull a "Fred Flintstone" stunt -- or use their feet to stop the vehicle -- because the brakes weren't working so well.

Cindy Rollo, 25, of Bolton Hill and eight of her friends created another tribute to Baltimore for their entry called Charmed Love that featured statues of the Utz Potato Chip girl as a bride, the National Bohemian boy as a groom and of John Waters with a pink flamingo and a can of hairspray. Nacho Mama's restaurant in Canton helped finance the project.

"It's great to see people have such a passion for something so crazy," said Mike McDonough, 28, of Butchers Hill. "And it's good to see so many people support it."

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