Plan for Schaefer statue clears major hurdle with art panel's OK

October 23, 2008|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,ed.gunts@baltsun.com

Visitors to Baltimore's Inner Harbor may soon be greeted by an 8-foot-tall statue of former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, after the city's Public Art Commission gave preliminary approval yesterday to plans for a "Schaefer Sculpture Garden" with his bronze likeness as the centerpiece.

The panel voted 6-1 to approve plans to place the statue and garden on city-owned land on the west shore of the Inner Harbor, between the Baltimore Visitor Center and the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace.

A preliminary model by sculptor Rodney Carroll showed Schaefer in a business suit, with his left hand upraised, waving out toward the harbor, and his right hand holding a slip of paper, possibly one of his famous "Do It Now!" action memos.

Baltimore construction magnate Willard Hackerman, chief executive of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., has offered to pay for the project, expected to cost up to $500,000, as a gift to the city.

He replaced Baltimore banker Edwin F. Hale Sr., who withdrew from plans to underwrite the project after the city commission questioned his proposal for a different location.

"I'm very honored," Schaefer, 86, said after the meeting, which he did not attend. "I want to thank Mr. Hackerman. He's kept after this. When he does something, he follows through."

Hale had wanted a nine-foot-tall statue of Schaefer placed on a six-foot-high pedestal on the brick plaza between the two Harborplace pavilions. The latest plan takes Schaefer off the pedestal and makes him slightly less tall but still larger than life.

The plan will require blessings from other city agenices, but the recently reconstituited commission's approval was a key step in the review process that allows the sculptor to keep working on the project.

Landscape architect Carol Macht, who is working with Carroll, said she envisions the garden as a continuation of West Shore Park, with informal landscaping and a footpath leading to the statue. Besides providing a backdrop for the statue, the landscaping would screen views of the nearby Phillips and Hooters restaurants at Harborplace.

As designed by Carroll and Macht, the statue and garden are full of subtle symbolism.

The bronze statue will be set on a marble platform - a reference to the marble steps of Baltimore rowhouses. The platform will be five-sided, an allusion to the shape of Fort McHenry and home plate at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which Schaefer helped get built. The sculpture garden will be roughly 35 feet wide and 100 feet long, not much different from the size of many Baltimore rowhouse lots.

Schaefer served as Baltimore's mayor from 1971 to 1987, governor of Maryland from 1987 to 1995, and state comptroller from 1999 to 2007. He was a champion of the Inner Harbor redevelopment and was mayor during the openings of Harborplace and the National Aquarium, among other projects.

Commission members said they liked the garden setting much more than the brick plaza between the two Harborplace pavilions and preferred the lack of a pedestal. They said it made Schaefer seem more a man of the people and less a conquering hero.

"There's a sense of discovery," said panel member Steve Ziger. "The overall design feels very nice. Part of its strength is the relationship to West Shore Park."

Carroll said he was pleased by the panel's vote and hopes to have Schaefer come to his studio in West Baltimore to pose for the statue.

He said the benefactor's goal is to have the statue cast and in place by Nov. 2, 2009 - Schaefer's 88th birthday.

During their deliberations over the design, the commissioners asked Carroll questions about his approach to capturing Schaefer. One panelist asked why he made Schaefer's head so large in his model.

Carroll said he was simply trying to depict Schaefer accurately.

"Schaefer's head was a little larger than the normal head," Carroll replied. "It's just a fact. ... There are things about him that make him Schaefer."

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