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There are watchers in the woods. A Seminole park is sculpted with surprise among the trees and grass.

Published April 2, 2007

Pining, one of six sculptures created by Leslie Fry for Boca Ciega Millennum Park, is a young woman made of painted plaster leaning into a pine tree. Her hair is a mass of real pine cones.
[Times photos: Ted McLaren]
Lizard, a 12-foot creature, is crowned with small edifices, an ironic nod to the encroaching development all around.

SEMINOLE - On the best days, life presents us with a good surprise or two. More, if you take a stroll along the boardwalk at Boca Ciega Millennium Park, a 185-acre mix of wide-open parkland and dense natural habitats backing up to the water. Maybe you'll spot a rara avis (the ivory-billed woodpecker!).

The elusive ghost orchid. Or stranger still, a creature part human, part pinecone. Yes, you will slow down. Probably stop. A life-size sculpture of a woman leans into a dead pine tree, caressing its rough bark. She has bouffant curls. Her skirt is a very large pinecone. No, it isn't. It's tiers of ruffles. No, not that either. Something like a tattoo in high relief covers her back. Is this a stage set for some production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and are you an unknowing extra, trapped in a forest of enchantment?

It's public art, part of an installation by Leslie Fry funded by Pinellas County Cultural Affairs. Six works are in the area bordering the boardwalk. A locator map gives a general idea of their placement but it's up to visitors to find them. That was purposeful on Fry's part.

"They aren't supposed to be that easy to find," she said on a recent tour. "You have to really look and if you have a sense of adventure get off the trail and get close and touch them."

That's a departure from the conventional training we have been given to NEVER TOUCH ART.

"Public art," Fry said, "is different from art in a museum or gallery. I want people to come close, to feel it."

To best see Pining, hop off the boardwalk. It's a figure from a distance that looks like carved stone patinated by age. Up close, you see that it's painted plaster. The hair is a thatch of pinecones gathered from the grounds. Spiders have already begun to spin a wispy aureole around them. The skirt is a series of overlapping hands cast in plaster. The "tattoo" is a map of North America that blends and extends to smoothness, suggesting a blurring of borders.

Much mystery, myth and metaphor in the woods.

Fry's best works are informed with such anomalies. If you know your classics, Ovid's Metamorphoses is the best reference for her themes of transformation. The female tree hugger could be a modern-day Daphne eluding the advances of Apollo by being changed into a laurel.

It's enough to know that this group of sculptures represents a constantly changing landscape and humans' constantly changing relationship to it. The hands forming the skirt-as-pinecone, for example, could be an embrace. Or a strangulation.

In these works, the gentler interpretation dominates. Farther along, a bird is perched in the crook of an oak, head gracefully bent. She (and we assume it's a female for the following reason) keens toward her torso shaped like a nesting egg bearing the visage of a woman's face. In its composition, Fry has merged and integrated the bird's form and function. It's titled Held, another ambiguous word that could mean protection or captivity.

I'm not going to spoil all the surprises of this installation. Discover them and make your own connections to the references Fry develops. I, like the artist, encourage you to get off the public path, lean in close. You will notice even in the few weeks since their placement that the sculptures are showing slight signs of aging.

All are made of plaster, the larger ones formed over metal armatures, then painted with washes that give them a mellow look. In most cases, plant materials have been added.

"Part of their aesthetic," said Fry, "is that they are meant to change over time."

They should last for years, she said, but eventually the finishes will begin to deteriorate, ants and spiders will take up residence and vines will envelop them. All part of the process. It's ephemeral, a memento mori.

Consider the large lizardlike creature with its regal human head, poised on the sand flats near a stand of mangroves. Across the water, condominium towers rise. They are mimicked in miniature on the statue's headdress. A real lizard, or a sand crab, might dart across your feet as you approach this hybrid being. You stand still as everything around you - time, tides, leaves on the trees, even the big buildings across the way - shifts in subtle alterations. Such is life.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or


Sculpture installations by Leslie Fry are at Boca Ciega Millennium Park, 12410 74th Ave. N, Seminole. Open daily from 7 a.m. until dark. Free. (727) 588-4882 or


[Last modified April 2, 2007, 06:28:33]

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