Art lovers can shell out for crab sculptures


So it ends, this season of many-legged landmarks and crabby puns. Never again will the city's so-called "Crabulance" be dispatched to doctor the massive fiberglass crustaceans that have suffered greatly since they went on display around town in May.

Hooligans snapped twigs off the Crab Apple. They roughed up, and autographed, the Orioles crabs standing guard at Camden Yards. They stole one from an Eddie's in Roland Park and then, inexplicably, put it back.

But that's all past now. This weekend, the shellfish will be auctioned off, their fates sealed by the drop of a gavel (actually, a crab mallet). Some will remain on view in public spaces; others will go home with their owners.

In either case, no longer will Eric Friedman - the designated Chief Crab Wrangler - have to ponder the physics of the 75-pound sculptures in their 400-pound bases, which, somehow, still manage to topple over.

"I hope they all find good homes," said Friedman, a community investment specialist in the mayor's office who helps oversee the Crabtown Project, which commissioned the sculptures to raise money for city schools.

Sixty festively themed crabs - which local artists designed to resemble everything from Scrabble boards to Edgar Allan Poe - will be auctioned at a cocktail event Saturday night at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Immediately afterward, 80 more will be available for online bidding, in a format a lot like eBay. (Call it cBay? Old Bay? Oh, it's hard to stop!)

Twenty-five sculptures have already sold, and - earlier this year - dozens of local groups paid $3,000 a pop to sponsor a crab for the summer. The city-managed Believe in Our Schools Fund, which receives all proceeds, has earned more than $250,000.

But what do you do with a giant crab? Last time huge sculptural sea creatures were auctioned off in Baltimore (2001: the Fish Out of Water project), many fish were installed on private lawns, overlooking pools and golf courses.

"Of course, some people will put them in their yards," said Debbie Cameron, the Crabtown Project's chairwoman. "A lot of people have talked about buying them and giving them to a school. That's what I'm going to do."

But some corporations are apparently quite soft-shelled as far as their sponsored crustaceans are concerned, and they don't want to let go. Apparently, a painted crab will adorn at least one company Christmas card.

And the Johns Hopkins University grew so attached to its helmeted Lax Crab that the school paid $30,000 to rescue it from the auctioneer's gavel. Hopkins wanted to support city schools, said Salem Reiner, the university's director of community relations. Besides, everybody liked the crab, which wears a Hopkins lacrosse jersey and a roguish grin.

"There was an interest in keeping the crab on campus," Reiner said.

Perhaps the other crabs will fetch a similarly high market price. In 2001, the fish sculptures sold for an average price of $8,000. And at Saturday night's auction, the crowd will be drinking crabitinis.

If you go

Tickets to Saturday night's Crabtown Auction at the Maryland Institute College of Art cost $125. Call 410-332-4172, ext. 160, or visit

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