Plans for statue of Schaefer crumble

The Baltimore Sun

A statue intended to honor the man whose motto is "Do It Now" isn't likely to be done anytime soon.

Plans to erect a 9-foot-tall sculpture of William Donald Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, on the Inner Harbor promenade have apparently collapsed - the result of a volatile combination of a colorful subject, a strong-willed benefactor and a new process for reviewing proposals for public art on city-owned land.

The man who proposed the sculpture for a prominent Inner Harbor parcel and offered to underwrite it as a tribute to Schaefer, First Mariner Bancorp Chairman and Chief Executive Edwin F. Hale Sr., has decided not to pursue it any longer.

"Ed is no longer involved with the statue," said Jennifer Lavin, vice president and director of corporate communications for First Mariner.

Lavin said Hale's decision was a personal one and unrelated to the bank, which has posted losses recently stemming from bad home loans and a declining real estate market.

She said Hale made the decision after Baltimore's recently reconstituted Public Art Commission questioned the location he preferred and preliminary designs for the statue.

"He thought it was going to be a relatively simple thing and they would just raise the money and move ahead," she said. "But it got complicated. ... It got out of hand, in his opinion."

Several other civic leaders and Schaefer admirers supported Hale in his effort to select a sculptor and erect the statue, but Hale conceived the project and without his support it has not moved forward through the city approval process.

Rodney Carroll, the Baltimore-based artist chosen to create the sculpture, said he tried to keep the project alive after Hale lost enthusiasm but eventually stopped working on it.

"Without him pursuing it, no one is pursuing it," Carroll said. "I am not presently working on it. ... A project like this has to be financed. I can't finance it. Nobody else has emerged to be the benefactor. Without having a benefactor or an agreed upon location, it's pointless for me to put any more effort into it at this point."

Carroll said he feels particularly bad for Schaefer, 86, who reluctantly agreed to the statue in the first place, had his hopes raised that it would materialize and now might not see it take shape after all.

"Here is William Donald Schaefer, who is told in the twilight of his years that he's going to get this wonderful recognition and there's some enthusiasm there, and then he's told the enthusiasm is lost. It's like a kid being told, 'You're going to have a birthday party,' and then, 'You're not going to have a birthday party.' What does it do to this man?"

Schaefer, meanwhile, said he has received plenty of tributes and wasn't getting his hopes up about this one. "I didn't go crazy over it," he said Saturday of the Hale-backed proposal. "What does he want a statue of me for? I'm not unhappy. Who wants to look at that thing? I would have liked it. But nobody's dying because I didn't get a statue put up."

"It would have been wonderful," he said. "I would have liked to have seen it. But I've been honored so many times. ... It doesn't matter at all."

The Schaefer statue was one of several proposed for downtown last year, along with figures of Pope John Paul II and former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns. A groundbreaking for a prayer garden containing the statue of the late pope will be held Friday. Backers of the statue of Burns, Baltimore's first black mayor, have been working with city officials to select a site.

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 mayor during the openings of Harborplace, the National Aquarium and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Hale said last year that he wanted to erect a statue of Schaefer on a public plaza between the two Harborplace pavilions, a gateway to the Inner Harbor for millions. Hale said he favored that prominent location because he believes Schaefer did more than anyone to rejuvenate the Inner Harbor and deserves a statue in a prime spot on the shoreline.

Even though Hale offered to cover the cost of the artwork - estimated at up to $500,000 - his proposal was referred to the Public Art Commission for review and approval because he wanted it to be placed on city-owned land.

In a meeting in November, members of the art panel questioned the appropriateness of erecting the statue on such a central spot and said they would like other locations to be considered.

Carroll, the artist, warned the panel during his presentation that Hale felt strongly about placing the statue between the two pavilions and might not agree to another location.

"Ed Hale is financing this," Carroll said at the time. "If he doesn't like this, he's pulling out."

The art commission also questioned Carroll's preliminary design, which showed Schaefer in a business suit holding rolled up blueprints in his left hand and gesturing toward the harbor with his right hand. Carroll proposed that Schaefer's figure be 9 feet tall, atop a 6-foot pedestal.

Panel members asked the artist to come up with some alternatives. Several indicated that the panel might be more receptive if the statue showed Schaefer in a more casual or even whimsical pose, such as wearing an 1890s bathing suit as he did for his 1981 swim in the National Aquarium's seal pool.

Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, the agency that oversees the public art panel, said he agrees that the review process is complicated - but he said it has to be when public property is involved. Even if the art comes from a private donor, he said, "public art is not an easy process."

Gilmore said deliberations involving the Schaefer statue might have seemed particularly complicated because the nine-member panel was in the process of being reconstituted last year and members were formulating new policies and procedures when they reviewed the sculpture. In the future, he said, the process will be clearly outlined on the city's Web site for prospective donors to read before making a proposal.

"I can understand his position," Gilmore said of Hale's decision. "Ed Hale is a doer. That's how he has been so successful. He takes the leadership and goes with it. ... He was trying to do the right thing and got caught up in the public process."

Carroll said he hopes some other individuals or groups might emerge to work with the Public Art Commission to identify a site and pick up the idea. If that happens, he said, he would be pleased to resume work on the sculpture.

"This could be an opening for other people or organizations to be part of it," he said. "Schaefer has many admirers across the state. ... I still think it could be a wonderful salute to him."

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