ANNAPOLIS – It was below freezing Friday morning on a sunny little peninsula in Harness Creek. A man bundled up in a scarf and hat walking his two young yellow Labs was one of the few souls to brave the blustery trails of Quiet Waters Park.
But the cold did not deter park rangers and maintenance workers, who arrived armed with power drills in a fleet of white pick-up trucks to dismantle a fairytale sculpture that Anne Arundel County park officials had deemed a safety hazard.
The sculptor, Al Zaruba, declared himself to be “emotionally beaten up,” over the destruction of his work, entitled “The Sky Below, Earth Above” – or “the tree house,” as park workers nicknamed it. After all, he had not even had a chance to finish it.
“The piece never looked as beautiful as I wanted it to because it was still in the beginning stages, it was very raw,” Zaruba said.
For the past few months, visitors to the park had been able to enter the colorful house at the center of Zaruba’s sculpture and read little poems, walk up stairs, and gaze at the multicolored wheel hooked to the wall that faced Harness Creek.
But this “interactivity” is what doomed the tree house. Some park visitors thought the structure had pagan and Christian influences, which Zaruba denied. Ultimately, park officials ordered it removed last week because it did not meet safety codes.
Workers, accompanied by Zaruba and the superintendent of Quiet Waters Park, Michael Murdoch, were careful to disassemble the rope-like wood in the sculpture and carry it to the fleet of trucks waiting up the trail. The wood is precious: Zaruba made nearly 50 trips to the upper shores of the Chesapeake Bay to gather timber for the sculpture.
But this is not the end for Zaruba or his wood. Murdoch has asked him to create another sculpture in the park, which Zaruba said he will do in the spring.
“It will not be interactive, I don’t want to go through that again,” he said. “It will be either off a paved trail or out in the open, in the light.”
Zaruba plans to wait until the spring because of his full schedule. He teaches at both the Maryland Institute College of Art and Towson University. Also, he is opening an exhibit, “Ocean,” for the Creative Alliance at The Patterson, an arts venue in Baltimore.
He plans to build an interactive structure in the Baltimore gallery out of the wood left from “The Sky Below, Earth Above.” Visitors will be able to enter to watch three different presentations, one of which will feature his fallen forest house.
Last Monday morning, Zaruba hiked to the sculpture to videotape his work in the snow before it was torn down. He will use that footage, combined with some other frames he took of the sculpture at different times, for the presentation.
“There will be oscillating fans and some sort of smell, I have used cinnamon before. The video will be displayed over stretched spandex,” said Zaruba.
Smell is a common element for Zaruba, who used the scent of burnt flesh in a sculpture he made in the mid 1990s to symbolize “political loss.”
Zaruba says he is not angry with Murdoch or John Marshall, the chief of park operations for Anne Arundel County. He feels that the blame lies in our “litigious society.”
Murdoch hopes the park can learn from this sticky situation. “We want to make sure our park is safe. But we also want to give the artists the freedom to do something that stretches their imagination and provides interesting things for people to see,” said Murdoch.