The year 2016 turned out to be one in which the people of Columbus demonstrated their love for and pride in the city’s public art.
It was also the year in which some of those treasured art forms were proven to be pretty durable.
A couple of weeks ago, officials of Faurecia America announced plans to return to its original location a statue that had come to represent one of the oldest and most influential industries in Columbus — Seward Johnson’s depiction of a 1920s scene in which a father pumped air into the flat tire on his Model A car while his young son played behind the steering wheel.
The statue paid homage to the origins of what would later become Arvin Industries, a Fortune 500 company which had been launched almost a century ago as the Indianapolis Air Pump Co.
Faurecia had acquired the statue several years ago when it assumed control of one of the old Arvin divisions following the breakup of the company, triggered by a 2000 merger with Meritor Inc.
The statue was originally sited in 1990 on a small round-about on the Arvin Industries campus near Central Avenue and 13th Street. It remained there past the merger with Meritor but was eventually moved to a facility in Walesboro where, for all intents and purposes, public viewing was limited.
Last year, Faurecia announced the decision to return the statue to its original home — now the headquarters for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. — a few hundred steps from the round-about to a wooded area just off 13th Street.
The decision to reposition the Model A statue came in large part from concerns over the possible repeat of an incident in November of 1990 — the night before the official dedication of the work of art. Elaborate plans had been made for the dedication — it was to be staged during a meeting of the company’s board of directors — but those plans were scrapped in the early morning hours of Nov. 8 when an inebriated driver ignored the required turn for the turn-about and plowed into the statue.
That not only delayed the official unveiling by several months but resulted in several thousand dollars of restoration work.
The school corporation was also the recipient of another community treasure last year thanks largely to the fundraising efforts of local activist Janice Montgomery, who was also a former director of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation.
This particular treasure had also been a part of the old Arvin headquarters complex which had been developed under the leadership of the company’s chairman, James Baker. Originally the home of Garfield School, the complex mushroomed into a much larger and more efficient structure.
Baker, with an eye to beauty, commissioned not only the Seward Johnson Model-A statue but also an art complex featuring a large circular pond and fountain along with sculptures of two children playing at the water’s edge. Another piece of art — a line of children in a “Crack the Whip” formation — was placed in the wooded area near where the Model A will be relocated.
Unfortunately, the public exposure was too much for area vandals to ignore. The two children statues — named “Puddles” and “Frog Pond” — suffered several instances of vandalism and eventually someone stole the little girl — a theft that was never solved.
The “Crack the Whip” sculpture was eventually moved to the POW-MIA plaza downtown in a much more public part of the city. School officials, fearing the little boy by the pond would suffer the same fate as his companion, was moved into storage.
Montgomery’s fundraising effort proved successful. Repairs were made to the little boy and a new little girl statue created to be his companion. School officials have added several new measures to provide security for the woks of art.
The fates of the Model A, “Puddles” and “Frog Pond” were not all that unique in the history of art and vandalism in Columbus.
Arguably, a statue that greeted past students of Columbus High School and Central Junior/Middle schools for several decades is a role model for the attachment the community has for some of its art, the idiocy of a small group of vandals and the willingness to make sure the original works are preserved for future generations.
The statue that stood at the entrance to the old school at Seventh and Pearl Street had come to be known as Pan — the little boy of myth depicted playing the flute.
Created by artist Myra Richards Reynolds in 1924, the Pan name apparently was bestowed on the statue by students almost from the time it was installed.
However, research by local historians Sue Wilgus and Rhonda Bolner determined that the statue was not Pan but a work titled by its creator as “Bird Boy.”
The fate of “Pan”/”Bird Boy” was changed on a permanent basis in 1964 when pranksters (better spelled vandals), somehow removed both the statue and its pedestal and placed both in the middle of National Road near its intersection with Washington Street.
The result was inevitable. The statue and its pedestal were severely damaged — as was the undercarriage of the car which struck it.
But response was quick. City workers took the statue and pedestal to the city garage where both were repaired. They were returned to the school walkway but for a variety of reasons had to be moved several times until a new Central Middle School was opened in 2007.
Fortunately it was not forgotten. Ultimately stored at the Bartholomew County Historical Society’s Henry Breeding Farm for several years, it was moved to the new Central Middle School where it remains on interior display in a special alcove created expressly for it.
The Model A, “Frog Pond,” “Puddles” and “Pan”/”Bird Boy” are still a part of Columbus culture.
That they are is evidence that good art is hard to keep down, especially in Columbus.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.