Storks, gators and other creatures hit Baltimore streets in Kinetic Sculpture Race

Whirling mobiles, peeing babies and more scenes from the annual AVAM sculpture race.

Stumti the stork glided through the cool morning air and down the hill behind the American Visionary Art Museum, as bubbles swirled around her beak. With a swaddled baby doll dangling from her bill, the towering bird was ready to take on the streets, waters and mud pits of Baltimore.

Piloted by four men in baby costumes — complete from bonnet to diaper — Stumti was among 32 contraptions racing through the city in the museum's Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Hundreds of people turned out for the 18th annual race Saturday morning, with onlookers gazing down from Federal Hill Park and lining the sidewalks near the Covington Street starting line. The 15-mile race wound its way from Federal Hill to Canton and back.

It was the fourth year participating for Stumti's creators, a group out of Pike County, Pa., that calls itself Soda Quackers. Last year the team drove a giant giraffe along the course. But this year's stork was inspired by the newest member of the Soda Quackers, 2-month-old Willow Nawn.

"When we first started, what's in that little thing was a bump," team member Jim Lomax said, pointing at the baby's stroller, decorated as a hatching egg. Willow's mother, Bronwyn Bird, planned to push it while running the entire course.

Including their youngest chick, the Soda Quackers includes three generations of Birds — Brownyn's parents, Lauren and Michael Bird, are on the team, too.

The stork theme was fitting for a race that fell a day before Mother's Day, and the team's costumes kept with the motherly motif: women were dressed as pregnant nurses. The men, meanwhile, sported baby outfits.

Even their sculpture's name alluded to childbirth: the word "stumti" is Lithuanian for "push."

The mythical stork corresponded with this year's race theme of "Myths and Monsters," and in her beak Stumti carried what the Soda Quackers called a "monster" — baby legs dangling from a blanket that revealed its monstrous nature at the push of a button.

Other sculptures in this year's race included a beehive-shaped entry called the Bees Knees, a vehicle designed like King Tut's sarcophagus, and a returning favorite, Fifi, the museum's larger-than-life pink poodle.

Several teams of students participated in the race, including a group from Baltimore Lab School. The private school has taken part in the race for 10 years, but had to back out last year when the race was postponed because of the unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray. The race was rescheduled to June 14, and the timing didn't work out.

This year, the school was back with a sculpture members called the Mobile Mobile — a variety of mobiles built and balanced by students in tribute to Alexander Calder, a American sculptor known for the mobile concept. The students spent about three months building the mobiles and designing stationary sculptures for their protective helmets, said Laura Parkhurst, head of the school's art department.

"We're happy to be back in the race," Parkhurst said. "We missed last year."

AVAM founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger said she was pleased with the quality of entries in this year's race. After last year's postponement, she was glad to see so many spectators and participants.

"The emphasis is always on community," she said. "It's the biggest love song I think we can mount in Baltimore."

That doesn't mean it's easy. The course takes most of the day to complete.

"It's a hard race by any imagination," Hoffberger said. "You know, 15 miles of peddling, and uphill and over mud pits and sand pits. But there is a lot of love when you go through the streets."

Besides personal satisfaction of completing the course, teams vied for a dozen different awards, including the top honor for Grand Mediocre Champion — a prize given to the team that finished in the dead center of the pack — the Golden Dinosaur Award for the team that broke down first, and the slightly more coveted People's Choice Award.

Washington residents Madeline Franklin, 25, and Troung Chau, 34, attended the race for the first time. They said they were enjoying the atmosphere and the costume-clad racers.

"I think it's awesome," Franklin said. "He's been looking at like all the mechanics, but I've been looking at all the people. It's so fun."

Franklin's mother, Hyattsville resident Debbie Franklin, 60, returned for her second year as a spectator.

"I never cease to be amazed how creative people are," she said. "The people who are participating are so excited and exuberant and are just having a great time. It's contagious."

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