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Schaefer statue makes him one with the people

SculptureRegional AuthorityExecutive BranchGovernmentInner Harbor

William Donald Schaefer spent a lifetime cultivating his reputation as a "man of the people."

That's just how sculptor Rodney Carroll depicts him in the Inner Harbor sculpture that will be unveiled at 1 p.m. Monday to mark Schaefer's 88th birthday.

After meeting with Baltimore's Public Art Commission and others, the sculptor chose not to position Schaefer high on a pedestal or striking a heroic pose between the two pavilions of Harborplace.

Instead, he set Schaefer's figure on two low marble slabs on the Inner Harbor's west shore, where it's more part of the crowd. He borrowed personal items such as Schaefer's own Seal of Baltimore tie clasp, Jos. A. Bank suit and well-worn wing tip shoes to give his figure an air of authenticity.

The result is a lifelike, approachable figure that honors Schaefer and his more than half a century of public service. It's hardly avant-garde or cutting edge, but Carroll definitely caught Schaefer's likeness. Those who know Schaefer will recognize the "Willie Don" stance, the set jaw, the larger than normal noggin. And those who don't know him might at least get a sense of the way he governed and why he deserves such a tribute.

"I'm so happy. ... It's a great honor to have a statue made for you," Schaefer said last week, noting that he has not seen the finished piece but plans to go to the unveiling. "I can just imagine it will be wonderful."

Monday's unveiling marks the culmination of a multi-year effort to create a statue of Schaefer, who served as Baltimore City Council member (1955-1967), City Council President (1967-1971), Mayor of Baltimore (1971-1987), Governor of Maryland (1987-1995) and state Comptroller (1999-2007), and presided over much of the Inner Harbor's vaunted renaissance. A gift from construction magnate Willard Hackerman, who stepped in after banker Edwin Hale Sr. bowed out of the project, the statue stands on city-owned land between Harborplace's Light Street pavilion and the Baltimore Visitor Center. Hackerman covered the cost of the statue and surrounding Schaefer Sculpture Garden, estimated at $500,000.

The bronze figure will be officially unveiled at a ceremony with Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon, the Baltimore City College High School Marching Band and the Morgan State University Choir.

Carroll's statue shows Schaefer dressed in a business suit standing in the middle of a garden, overlooking the Inner Harbor. His left hand is raised, as if he's waving to a friend in the distance. His right hand holds a "Mayor's Action Memorandum," one of the notes he dashed off when he wanted city workers to fix a pothole or complete some other urgent task. The figure is larger than life -- 7 feet 2 inches high -- and set on two five-sided stone slabs that lift it slightly above the public promenade.

This is not the ailing Schaefer of recent years. It's a younger, robust, Do-It-Now Schaefer, captured in his prime. Carroll depicted him as he looked in 1980, the year Harborplace opened, when Schaefer was 58 and midway through his tenure as Baltimore's mayor.

(One advantage of selecting this time period is that it didn't require Schaefer to pose for the statue. Although Schaefer went to Carroll's studio once and had his measurements taken, the artist said, he was unable because of health reasons to stand for extended periods. Instead, Carroll obtained photos and film footage from the early 1980s to study Schaefer's stance and demeanor.)

Carroll and studio assistants Brendan Hughes, Peter Boyce and Alex Zhikulin captured Schaefer's physical traits down to the veins in his hands and the bagginess of his trousers. That's not to say they didn't take some poetic license. According to Carroll, the figure is something of a blend of Schaefer's years as mayor and governor. His tie width and shirt collar are from the 1980s. His suit and haircut are from the 1990s. The effect is more timeless than if Carroll had taken every detail from a single year.

One aspect that's markedly different from many local statues is the shade of the bronze casting -- brown with red undertones. Carroll said he specified that color because he didn't want this 2009 figure to be confused with 19th-century statues that are traditionally more black or black-green. "I think it's a very contemporary way of handling the figure," he said.

The west shore turned out to be a better location for viewing the statue than the brick plaza between the Harborplace pavilions, the site Hale preferred. On that central plaza, the statue would always be fighting for attention with cars whizzing by on Light Street and performers in the amphitheater.

For the west shore, landscape architect Carol Macht of Hord Coplan Macht created a garden that provides opportunity for contemplation amidst the hubbub of the Inner Harbor. It enhances the shoreline by finishing off a section that previously felt leftover and neglected. The trees and shrubs Macht specified, including River Birch, London Plane, white pine and viburnam, frame Carroll's statue and help block views of Light Street and the Hooters restaurant sign at Harborplace that otherwise could have drawn attention from it. Together, the statue and garden form one seamless sculpture that honors Schaefer better than a lone figure on a pedestal would have.

For Carroll, one of the trickiest challenges was capturing Schaefer in a pose that was at once characteristic and respectful. Often remembered for appearing in silly costumes, Schaefer would have been easy to lampoon. Cartoonists were forever showing him with a swelled head.

Carroll resisted the temptation to create any sort of caricature. The statue is anatomically correct, but Carroll stopped short of making him out to be any sort of buffoon. The waving gesture is at once authoritative, celebratory and Schaeferian. He's waving not only out to the harbor but back to City Hall, where he spent the bulk of his career.

Such restraint might disappoint anyone who might have wanted something more zany or unhinged. But that's not the way Carroll or the donor approached the commission. At the same time, Carroll imbued the statue with meaning in different ways. The action memo is numbered "11221" for Schaefer's birthdate: 11-2-21. It reads: "Have you helped someone today? Do It Now. Schaefer." That's a reference, the artist says, to Schaefer's well-publicized impatience, and the way he often opened his cabinet meetings, exhorting agency heads to find ways to help constituents.

Another symbolic gesture is the configuration of the stone slabs on which the figure stands, a design collaboration between the sculptor and landscape architect. The slabs are made of marble, a reference to the marble steps on Baltimore rowhouses. Their pentagonal shapes can be seen as references to several Baltimore landmarks, from Fort McHenry to the World Trade Center to home plate at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the stadium Schaefer opened when he was governor.

Putting his statue on home plate was a way of saying that Schaefer has "come home" to Baltimore after his years of holding statewide office. It's an example of the thought and attention to detail that makes Baltimore's newest work of art a fitting tribute to one of Maryland's best-known public servants.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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