John Riddell shows off his landscape design for the Zorach Fountain in Bath’s Library Park.by Kitty Wheeler
Coastal Journal contributor
BATH — William Zorach’s sculpture, “Spirit of the Sea,” celebrated its 50th anniversary in Library Park, Bath, on August 5. The sculpture, placed on a pedestal in the park pond, was installed on August 5, 1962, and dedicated to the citizens of Bath. Many claim that the sculpture is the best outdoor piece of art in the state of Maine, and some go so far as to say it represents the best work of its kind in our country.
The Bath Garden Club approached Zorach, a well-known artist, in 1959 to design and sculpt a fountain for the city park. Because he summered in nearby Georgetown, the community knew Zorach’s talents well. He offered to donate the sculpture as long as the club took on the expense of casting it in bronze, paying for the fountain plumbing, and purchasing the granite pedestal and base. By 1962, the garden club raised $15,000, and the commissioned piece became a fountain in the park.
By 2002, the statue was in need of restoration. Margie and Arthur Bliss had recently moved to Bath and took on the project with enthusiasm. They formed Friends of the Zorach Fountain, and membership dues as well as grant monies helped restore the sculpture. The fountain was reinstalled in the park in 2005. However, ongoing care for the fountain continued, and the Friends’ group continued to support its maintenance.
As the 50th birthday party approached, the Friends wanted to enhance the edges of the pond and accommodate all the people who wanted to access the fountain at close range. They engaged Bruce Riddell, a well-known landscape architect from Bar Harbor and Boothbay, to design a “new” look for the pond. Riddell, who has helped to shape Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ steep slopes with stonework, responded with a wonderful plan that was shared at the 50th anniversary.
The celebration, which included over 100 eager supporters, was a festive occasion. The Bath Garden Club created two colorful flower arrangements that embraced the speakers’ podium. Bath Municipal Swing Band played joyful music from the gazebo, and Starlight Café donated cookies and lemonade for refreshments.
Several speakers highlighted the historic occasion. Mark Wilson, pastor of Phippsburg Congregational Church, was the master of ceremonies. He introduced Linda Wood, chairwoman of Friends of the Zorach Fountain, who explained the history of the fountain and its importance to the community. David Sinclair, chairman of Bath City Council, read a proclamation from the city, extolling the fountain’s beauty and historical significance.
Arts Policy and Program Director of Maine Arts Commission Donna McNeil said, “We are all beneficiaries of this sculpture and fountain. William Zorach created a great American masterpiece.”
Peter Zorach, a grandson, celebrated the generosity and sense of community that Bath citizens have; he also noted that his grandfather found his summerhouse an ideal place to create art. Although he was born in Lithuania in 1889, Zorach moved to America early in the 20th century where he established his reputation. His summer move to Maine in 1923 allowed him more artistic freedom.
Sarah Hamill reminisced about the 40 happy years she had had with Margie Bliss, and how important the restoration of the Zorach fountain was to her friend.
Wood then introduced Riddell to discuss a design for the future of the fountain. At the same time, she mentioned that the Friends would be mounting a capital campaign to fund the improvements.
“This new project will be dedicated to Margie Bliss,” said Wood.
“We hope to create a picture frame around this masterpiece,” Riddell stated, as he unveiled a drawing of the plan. Granite pieces will surround the pond; there is a step-down area to the water for dogs to drink and children to sail boats. Planting areas within the granite border will allow small flowers and ground cover to grow; and there will be granite-quarried boulders periodically placed around the edges. A concrete base will need to be installed underneath the new stonework in order to provide stability. And a new drainage system for the pond is a vital part of the improvements.
A 50th birthday party certainly calls for a celebration and a present that will be enjoyed by the public for years. The Friends of Zorach Fountain have suggested one possibility. Wood does not know what the capital campaign goal will be, but she is eager to form a committee that will look for matching grants and major donors. William Zorach’s sculpture and Margie Bliss’ dedication to preserving the fountain deserve community support.