Spreading joy with sculpture

Artist gives work to ship named after sailor ancestor

August 04, 2008|By Jessica Anderson | Jessica Anderson,Sun Reporter

Sculptor Sterett-Gittings Kelsey has had her work featured all over the world, and now she can add a 510-foot, $1.3 billion naval warship to her list of display locations.

Kelsey will donate Joy, a bronze angel less than a foot tall and priced at $12,000, to the USS Sterett, which will be commissioned in Baltimore this week. She is a descendant of Andrew Sterett, a 19th-century naval officer from Baltimore, for whom the ship is named.

The day before Saturday's commissioning ceremony, Kelsey is to present her "little guardian angel." She said the statue is a symbol of "joy, love, peace and freedom." She will also present a letter she wrote to the crew. "I hope it will be a message," she said, "that America loves and cares for them."

Crew members, who arrived from Norfolk on Saturday night, have a variety of activities scheduled throughout the week leading up to the commissioning ceremony at the South Locust Point Cruise Terminal. Today, crew members are scheduled to have a crab feast. Also today, the crew will help residents clean the Indiana Street playground in the Westport community.

"A ship commission is a very special event," said Helen Delich Bentley, a former congresswoman and now a consultant to the Maryland Port Administration.

The 280 Sterett crew members and their families will also be able to see Baltimore Orioles games and volleyball at the Inner Harbor, and take tours of Washington and Annapolis.

"This is a huge event for our crew," said Lt.j.g. Christina Linehan, public affairs officer for the Sterett. She said more than half of the crew members have never been assigned to a ship before.

The commissioning of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer will also serve as a Sterett family reunion. Kelsey, who now lives in Roxbury, Conn., said she had been unaware of her prominent ancestor, but now she will meet other Sterett descendants.

Kelsey said she was contacted by Kent Sterett, another descendant of Andrew Sterett, while he was searching for other "one-r Steretts" on the Internet.

Kent Sterett is a member of the USS Sterett Foundation, an organization that connects Sterett family with crew members from ships named after the historic naval officer. "I'm the direct result of a Google," Kelsey said with a laugh, referring to the Internet search engine.

After searching for all of the "one-r Steretts," Kent Sterett said he came across the artist's Web site. "She was kind of curious, too," Kent Sterett said of the initial phone call.

After a little research, Kelsey realized she was a descendant of Andrew Sterett and decided to donate a piece to the warship. She said that the statue is part of a collection she began 20 years ago in honor of the victims aboard Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Since then, she said that several Joys have been created for memorials.

Kelsey is trying to get approval to create a 30-foot tall Joy for Walter Reed Medical Center, which she said would probably take more than a year to make once she is given approval.

To create a Joy she uses the "lost-wax process," in which she first carves a sculpture in wax, covers the wax in cement to create a mold and when the wax is melted out, fills in the cement mold with bronze.She said some smaller pieces take three weeks to create, but that the process has taken 40 years to perfect.

However, now "it's kind of like a Betty Crocker cake mix, you get good cake every time," she said.

Most of her bronze sculptures are delicate dancers in various poses, ranging in size. She has pieces in 87 countries, and even one at her alma mater, the Garrison Forrest School in Owings Mills. But the donated Joy will be the only one on a warship.

After the commission this week, the USS Sterett will go through the Panama Canal to its home port in San Diego for final training before deployment. This is the fourth ship named for the Baltimore native.

jessica.anderson@baltsun.com

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