Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Pelican Legend
June 28, 2007
Fairhope is known as an artists' colony. It never was one, but it once had a few real artists. Now it has an Art Association, mainly made up of hobby artists and offering classes in painting, sculpture and pottery to the general public. This club is very successful, and has spawned a few artists, to be sure. It's just that their idea of art does not quite coincide with mine.
An offshoot of the Art Association is a committee called the Committee for Public Art. This came into being after the Marietta Johnson Museum raised funds for a statue of Marietta Johnson, a very simple, tasteful piece with three figures, slightly larger than life, one being Mrs. Johnson herself and the other two being children who are learning from her. After the erection of this statue the Committee for Public Art went into action and raised money for a statue of "The Spirit of Fairhope." This work, an abstract, three-pronged piece in blue, stands at the entrance to the town, just across the street from the Art Association building. The committee has sponsored a number of projects, including sculpture of a couple of dolphins, a sea horse, and I don't know what else. Until the pelicans.
In the days when Fairhope didn't think of itself as an artists' colony, but rather a Single Tax Colony, we had an artist-craftsman in residence named Craig Sheldon who made his living in the construction trade. Craig was a wood-carver who occasionally got commissions to create sculpture. He created whimsical animals and occasional political whimsies out of wood, and built his own house in the form of a tiny castle, out of local tile, stone, and found objects. He raised three children and lived a rather astonishing life in his little corner of Fairhope.
At the end of his life -- I believe he was in his 80's and suffering from Altzheimer's -- he was commissioned to create a sculpture to go in the new fountain at the community college. The result is the statue of pelicans you see above. It was not Craig's best work, but it had a sense of wonder about it -- those soaring birds with their command of the sky -- as did everything he created.
He's been dead some ten years now. The Committee for Public Art had an idea to use molds of his pelicans and give them to some of their members to decorate artistically and put up all over town. Here's just a small sample of what they came up with. The effect is a Disneyfication of town, punctuating the corners of the toney, flower-bedecked village with little exclamation points of painted pelicans, looking for all the world as if they wished someone would wash them of their overwrought designs and set them free as they once were.
Word has it that one of the painted pelicans has been stolen from its perch. Someone says this is worse than stealing a Stop sign. Someone else says whoever said that is insane. Whether they are art or not they are all over town, these profaned pelicans, these tarted-up waterfowl that once made a simple statement by a complex man in the place he wanted them.
I knew Craig Sheldon, and I think I know what he'd say about the painted ladies. A temperamental man with the soul of a poet and the tongue of a sailor, I don't think he's resting in peace these days.