Schaefer statue gets cool reception from art panel

Board questions sculptor's style, monument's site

November 30, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun architecture critic

Plans to erect a larger-than-life statue of former Mayor William Donald Schaefer along the Inner Harbor shoreline failed to win approval yesterday from Baltimore's Public Art Commission, whose members questioned aspects including the proposed location and the way Schaefer was depicted by sculptor Rodney Carroll.

The commissioners made it clear that they have no problem with commemorating Schaefer and appreciate that a private group headed by businessman Edwin F. Hale Sr. wants to donate the $300,000 to $500,000 statue to the city.

But they said they want other sites to be considered besides the Inner Harbor and urged the sculptor to create a work of art more in keeping with Schaefer's colorful personality.

Several commissioners indicated that the panel might be more receptive if the statue shows Schaefer in a more casual or even whimsical stance, such as wearing an 1890s bathing suit and holding a rubber duck, as he did for his 1981 swim in the National Aquarium's seal pool.

"I get the sense that we're not all sold on the Inner Harbor," said panel member Anne Perkins.

"When you mention the Schaefer-with-the-duck outfit, the whole [panel] lit up," commissioner Elford Jackson said to the artist. "Is that off the table?"

"My feeling is it's off the table from Schaefer's point of view and Mr. Hale's point of view," said Carroll. "Shock value and humor can go a long way, but how do you really want to be remembered?"

Hale's group has said it would underwrite the statue so no public funds will be needed, but the statue needs the commission's approval before it can be placed on public property. Hale, who was not at the meeting, has said he would prefer the statue to be in the plaza between the two pavilions of Harborplace because Schaefer did so much as mayor from 1971 to 1987 and then as governor of Maryland from 1987 to 1995 to revive the Inner Harbor.

Landscape architect Catherine Mahan presented four locations for the panel to consider: the spot between the Harborplace pavilions, a spot on the Inner Harbor's west shore in line with Conway Street, and two spots on McKeldin Plaza, near the intersection of Pratt and Light streets.

Mahan and others said three of the locations should be considered temporary, because the city has plans to reconstruct Pratt Street and any statue along that corridor might have to be relocated in a few years.

Carroll said he wants to create a statue that is "very realistic, in a traditional sense." He showed a figure of Schaefer in a suit, holding rolled-up blueprints in his left hand and gesturing with his right hand. "He's challenging everyone: `I stepped up. You step up, too,'" Carroll said.

Some commissioners said they were disappointed that the statue was so traditional.

"What I see is a really old-fashioned sculpture," said commissioner Darsie Alexander. "I think it can do more."

Carroll said he considered other approaches but concluded that a traditional statue would hold up well over time and be well received in Baltimore. He noted that many people don't like Jonathan Borofsky's aluminum sculpture in front of Pennsylvania Station, Male/Female.

"Baltimore is a little provincial in certain ways," he said.

Carroll said he is prepared to explore other options, but doesn't necessarily want to be part of a prolonged process.

"If you want to design the sculpture, you design the sculpture," he told one commissioner. "I'm real busy. You're real busy. ... I don't want to be designing this for years."

Carroll added that the traditional approach reflects what Hale wants.

"Ed Hale is financing this," he said. "If he doesn't like this, he's pulling out."

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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