An elaborate bronze fountain at the governor's mansion in Annapolis, criticized as a symbol of gubernatorial excess when it was unveiled three years ago, has drawn praise this fall as a model of good design.
Inform magazine, a regional journal published by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects, has named the fountain and surrounding garden as one of 11 winners in its annual design award program, which surveys work throughout the mid-Atlantic.
The garden was completed in spring 1990 on the west and northwest sections of the grounds around the governor's mansion. It was built in response to a desire by Gov. William Donald Schaefer for a garden that would be a distinctive part of the public domain and that would create a stronger civic presence for the mansion itself.
The 12-foot-high fountain was conceived as a "place-maker" that would provide a year-round focus for the garden while celebrating the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay region. Designers chose images that represent Maryland and its history, such as corn, tobacco, the crab, terrapins and the state bird -- the Baltimore oriole. On the edge of the bowl are leaves of the state tree, the white oak. The shield near the top is from the state crest, and graphics around the base are from the state flag.
Private donations to the governor's mansion foundation covered the $169,000 cost of the fountain. Despite that, state legislators pointed to it as a symbol of what they saw as the Schaefer administration's penchant for spending.
But Inform's highly respected panel of jurors -- Patricia Conaway, XTC Robert Duemling and Laurie Olin -- gushed with praise.
"It's a wonderful piece," said Mr. Olin of Hanna/Olin Ltd., a landscape architectural firm in Philadelphia.
The jurors observed that, at first glance, the fountain seemed to rely too simplistically on styles of the past. "But on the other hand, it's the sort of thing that is accessible," Mr. Olin said. "People will love it. The kids will come up and talk about it. Everyone will be making up stories about it. I was surprised how good it was."
The jury also praised the rest of the project, which includes a private terrace, curving walk and rose garden.
"When this fills out a bit more, it's going to seem that it's always been there, even though it clearly hasn't," Mr. Olin said. "And yet when you look at the massing of the plants, it is not Victorian. It's not 1920s. It's vaguely environmental. The handicapped can move through it and see and touch and smell things. It's the most politically correct thing I've seen in years."
Graham Landscape Architecture of Annapolis was the designer, with Jay Graham as principal-in-charge. Pearse O'Doherty and Tish Tyson rounded out the design team. Sculptor Lyle Beddes of Historical Arts and Casting helped create the fountain.
Governor Schaefer noted that Hilda Mae Snoops, Maryland's official hostess, played a role in suggesting the elements of the fountain.
"Hilda Mae felt strongly that the fountain should show the best of Maryland and include items representing different parts of the state," he said recently. "That's why she wanted corn, tobacco and the crab in the design, so it would really be a fountain for all Marylanders."
Mr. Graham said the project is one of several by his firm that seeks to "engage people on various levels -- not the least being 'the mind.' "
He also had to fit a new fountain into the Annapolis historic district. "We see this project in the tradition of the rich, urban detail already in the town," he said. "It is part of a continuum, but also of our time."
The design is meant to impart an environmental message, he said.
"Everyone talks about protecting the environment. The beginning of stewardship of this heritage is an awareness of our bounty. This fountain celebrates the natural bounty of Maryland."
Rash Field competition
Twenty-six design teams, including some of the nation's best-known landscape architects, have answered the Schmoke administration's call for experts to think of ways to invigorate Rash Field and the west shore of the Inner Harbor.
Next month the Baltimore Development Corp. will select five teams to compete in a six-week design competition. The winner will get to negotiate a contract to work on the shoreline.