Baltimore City

City threatens to take down statue in traffic circle

Artist Matt Fouse, left, of Abell, and Bonnie Bessor, president of the Abell Improvement Association, stand near Fouse's sculpture in the traffic circle at East 32nd Street and Guilford Avenue in Abell on Nov. 21. City Officials say the sculpture, which was placed there to partly to keep cars from driving straight over the circle, is not approved, poses a safety hazard and must be taken down.

Residents in the Charles Village area  really like their quirky new neighbor, Charlie, who seems to live in the middle of a traffic circle.

For many residents, Charlie is the only thing they do like about the controversial traffic circle at 32nd Street and Guilford Avenue in Abell.


But the Baltimore City Department of Transportation doesn't like Charlie one bit.  Officials say Charlie is a safety hazard and  threatened to physically remove him Friday,  Nov. 22, unless the community — or the artist who created him — took him down first.

Neighbot Matt Fouse, an artist who made the life-sized metal sculpure, took Charlie down Friday ahead of the city's arival — and put him back up on Saturday.


"He's back in his resting place," Fouse said.

Fouse said he fashioned Charlie out of parts that he found in the garbage and welded together in his garage.

Fouse, 29, a professional artist, is no fan of the traffic circle, and has made his feelings known by pulling artistic stunts like putting a toilet there last year.

Residents weren't shocked, and many were pleasantly surprised, when the humanoid sculpture, nicknamed Charlie for Charles Village, quietly appeared at the intersection last week.

"I think everyone just assumes it's me," Fouse said, taking ownership of Charlie, but not of flowers that were planted in the traffic circle some time back.

Now, Fouse is facing off with the city.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said earlier last week that the city planned to take Charlie down on Nov. 22 if he was still there.

"The Department of Transportation made a decision to remove the sculpture after an investigation was conducted following a phone call from a concerned resident," Barnes said in an email. "We became very concerned after discovering that the sculpture was made out of metal and mounted in the right of way. This not only causes obstruction but presents a hazard to both  pedestrians and motorists."


Fouse said he was "playing the chess game the city likes to play."He said that if he does take Charlie down permanently, a number of area businesses, including Eddie's Liquors, have offered to take Charlie in, "rent-free," Fouse said.

For Fouse, Charlie is part protest and part community art project.

"Deep down, it's a protest," he said. "But I also like the community aspect of it. People really like that sculpture. Every time I walk by, people are admiring it."

People have started dressing it up. On Thursday morning, the sculpture was wearing white earmuffs, a Harry Potter scarf and a T-shirt that said, "Save Charlie."

"It's a nice statue," said neighbor Judy Berlin, a retired nurse who has lived in the area since 1987. She said it remind her of an exhibit at Artscape or the Maryland Institute College of Art.

"Why the DOT thinks it's a danger, I don't know," Berlin said.


Many residents think the mountable traffic circle itself is unsafe, and say that motorists are always speeding through it or running over it.

"I would say generally the traffic circle is not popular in the community," said Bonnie Bessor, president of the Abell Improvement Association. "It's not what we thought we were getting."

But she also said she could tell that many motorists don't know how to use a traffic circle, and that she has tried to stay neutral on the issue of the traffic circle in Abell.

When it comes to Charlie, "I'm not neutral," Bessor said. She said she wants to save the sculpture, but added, "Honestly, I'm not sure what I can do. It's a tricky situation."

As this week began, Abell residents were enjoying Charlie's company while they still could, before the city came back.

"I think it's really cool. It makes the traffic circle more noticeable," said Amber Eisenmann, 42, vice president of education and training for Planned Parenthood of Maryland


And she said Charlie fits the community.

"It's such a quirky, art neighborhood," she said. "It's good to have a sculpture that reflects the character of the neighborhood."

"That's a gift to the neighborhood. There's nothing disrespectful about it," said neighbor Jenny Harbold, 54, a teacher at Park School.

Amy Thompson, 43, a freeelance science writer, dislikes the circle, but loves Charlie.

"It helps with community spirit, and I can't see anything unsafe about its presence there," she said in an email. " I hope that we're allowed to keep it."