Since 1961, a finely-sculpted Italian marble sculpture by the name of Lorelei has graced the front entry of the Fort Myers-Lee County Library on Jackson Street. But when the library moved in December to its new 40,000-square-foot quarters at the corner of First and Royal Palm Boulevard, Lorelei was left behind. Headless and in need of significant repairs and conservation, it seemed for a time that the woeful German siren might be sold, or even abandoned. But today, the firm of Flint & Doyle moved Lorelei gratis to her new home in the Berne Davis Garden at the Fort Myers-Lee County Garden Council.
"When we read about Lorelei's plight in the River Weekly, we knew we had to do something," said Kay Holloway, as she and a group of Council members waited anxiously for the four-man Flint & Doyle crew to expertly unload the five foot tall sculpture from the flatbed truck on which the statue made the short trip from Jackson to Virginia Street.
"We are over-the-top excited to bring her here," added Second Vice-President Sandy Kavouras. "It feels like she's finally coming home."
Lorelei never actually spent time on the Garden Council grounds, but she did reside in the well-tended garden of Evelyn D. Rea from 1930 until a short time after Rea's death in 1959. A member of the Periwinkle Garden Club, Rea maintained a garden at her residence on the Caloosahatchee River not far from the Garden Council grounds. The oldest garden club in Lee County, the Periwinkle was Mina Edison's garden club, and she and husband Thomas were among the first guests to admire the sculpture after Ms. Rea installed Lorelei at her home following her return from Italy, where she found and purchased the that was created near Rome in 1880 by Boston-born artist Emma Elisabeth Phinney.
The Periwinkle was one of nine garden clubs who banded together in 1957 to form the Garden Council. Today, it is one of the Council's twenty member garden clubs, eight plant societies and two affiliates which, together, boast more than 1,800 individual members throughout Southwest Florida.
The Council moved to its current location on Virginia in 2007 compliments of a long-term lease from the City of Fort Myers. Now the Garden Council is returning the favor, assuming responsibility for Lorelei's custody, conservation and care. You see, had the Garden Council not stepped forward to offer Lorelei a safe, secure fenced-in new home, the City might have been compelled to de-assession the piece from its public art collection because it does not have the money needed to properly repair and maintain the 133-year-old white marble sculpture.
Last March, the City's Public Art Committee hired a conservator to examine Lorelei and tell them what it would cost to replace her missing head, left elbow and toes, which were lost when the statue was damaged by one or more vandals on the night of October 29, 1997. The culprits were never caught, and the missing pieces have never resurfaced. Replacing the head could cost between $5,000 and $10,000 depending upon whether ceramic or marble is used. But conservators Rosa Lowinger and Laruen Hall don’t think the missing body parts should be replaced because the vandalism is now part of the sculpture’s history.
"We agree," states Garden Council president Debbie Wyatt-Stotter. "She's beautiful just the way she is."
Lowinger and Hall emphatically recommend that the sculpture be cleaned and the marble stabilized. Moisture from the plants that surrounded her in the landscaping bed in front of the old library, UV damage from direct sunlight and exposure to more than half a century of wind and rain have caused the marble to flake. The resulting spalling can be treated through injection and other repair methods (at a cost more than $6,000), but the repairs will only be a temporary fix unless the Garden Club also takes measures to protect Lorelei from the direct sunlight, wind, rain, and leaching from standing water. For now, Lorelei stands in full sunlight in the Council's hibiscus garden. To protect the statue from future environmental damage, it will either need to move her indoors or cover the sculpture and surround the plinth on which she stands with river rock that promotes drainage of stormwater away from the delicate marble - all of which entails further significant cost.
But Wyatt-Stotter, Holloway and Kovouras seem committed to provide Lorelei with what she needs so that she can be enjoyed for generations to come at her new home on Virginia in the Berne Davis Gardens.
The Fort Myers-Lee County Garden Council is open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Tuesdays. Lorelei will be officially re-dedicated and presented to the public and Garden Council members from 10:00 a.m. to 2:o0 p.m. on Tuesday, February 18. The gardens are located at 2166 Virginia Avenue (off McGregor Blvd), Fort Myers, Florida 33901. For more information, please telephone 239-332-4942 or visit www.fmlcgardencouncil.com.