Giving form to 'Firebird'

Public art of every description fills Baltimore's Mount Royal Cultural District each summer during the annual Artscape festival and then typically disappears soon after it's over.

But by autumn this year, the cultural district will gain at least one major work of art permanently.


Firebird is a 50-foot-tall metal sculpture by Baltimore artist Rodney Carroll that will be installed this fall on a plaza at the southeast corner of Howard Street and Park Avenue, opposite the entrance to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

It was inspired, Carroll says, by The Firebird, a 1910 ballet by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.


The $275,000 sculpture was commissioned by David S. Brown Enterprises, one of the developers of the Symphony Center office and apartment complex next to the hall, and the Maryland Mass Transit Administration, which operates the light-rail line that runs through the area.

Carroll, a 54-year-old graduate of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, was chosen in a 2000 competition. He said he is striving to create a work that will be a gateway to the cultural district and a symbol for the symphony, whose home turns 22 later this year.

"I wanted to play off the architecture of the symphony hall, the curvilinear aspect," he said. "I wanted to reach out from that and imply music spilling out of the symphony hall to the populace."

One of Stravinsky's best known compositions, The Firebird was first performed by the Ballets Russes at the Paris Opera. It is characterized by outbursts of great force and propulsion, followed by lighter, more shimmering passages.

Carroll is using stainless steel, bronze and copper to create a composition that echoes Stravinsky's music, with powerful, buttresslike elements and more delicate pieces. Elements of the artistic composition also suggest parts of musical instruments, such as the pipes of an organ or the strings of a harp.

"It's a visual interpretation" of Stravinsky's piece, Carroll said.

Noting that Stravinsky collaborated at one point with Russian painter Wassily Kadinsky, Carroll said he considers the Baltimore sculpture another sort of collaboration, this time in three dimensions.

"Since the sculpture stands alone in a large plaza, I felt the need for the work to be architectural in scale and elements," he said. "The main element is structured with twisting buttresses, and pedestrians may walk into and through the sculpture. ... It's different from each side, and it's meant to be that way."


Firebird is one of at least five substantial works of public art that have been or are being completed in or around downtown this year, at a combined cost of more than $1.5 million.

Others include Jonathan Borofsky's Male/Female sculpture in front of Penn Station; Alice Aycock's Swing Over in Charles Center; William Neibauer's concrete sculpture at the Baltimore Visitor Center and Stan Edmister's repainting of the Howard Street bridge over the Jones Falls Expressway.

With these installations, Baltimore is gaining more public art in a nine-month period than it has in the past nine years.

Carroll has been fabricating the pieces for Firebird at his West Baltimore studio for the past year and says installation will take place sometime during the symphony's fall season. He is hoping that musicians from the orchestra will be on hand to perform The Firebird when the sculpture is dedicated.

"That," he said "would be a wonderful sharing of the arts with the city of Baltimore."

Good spirits


Here's a postscript to last week's article about the Bauer Farm in eastern Baltimore County and its role in the Battle of North Point.

Baltimore resident Tony Buechner writes that teenagers Daniel Wells and Harry McComas may not be the only Baltimoreans who may deserve credit for killing British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross during the 1814 battle.

Wells and McComas, Buechner says, were part of a group headed by Capt. Edward Aisquith and positioned to defend North Point when the British invaded. But according to historian Walter Lord, author of The Dawn's Early Light, Aisquith's riflemen, Capt. Aaron Levering's Independent Blues and Capt. Benjamin Howard's Mechanical Volunteers, all claimed credit for shooting Ross, Buechner said. "No one really knows who did it."

Buechner went on to note that Ross, one of Britain's most beloved generals, was carried back to his ship and placed in a barrel of rum to preserve his body during the voyage to England. "The story I've heard," Buecher relates, "is that he returned home in better spirits than when he left."