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Snell Isle statue's in good hands after all

ST. PETERSBURG

Contrary to earlier reports, Fall is getting a facelift. Fall, the statue, that is.

As Snell Isle residents were mourning what was believed to be the theft of a prized historic statue, Jerry Karlik was laughing hysterically.

"When I read the article in the paper about the statue being robbed, I just started cracking up," he said, chuckling. "I was looking at the statue sitting right here in my shop!"

The statue is one of four roughly life-sized depictions of Romanesque women titled The Four Seasons. The set was completed by Italian sculptor Giulio Aristide Sartorio in the early 1900s and has occupied corners of Snell Isle Park for 19 years.

Karlik, 62, is not a thief. The sculptor and owner of Florida Statuary & Molds was actually hired by the city of St. Petersburg to restore the century-old sculpture.

The city's Parks Department never told the residents of Snell Isle or even the St. Petersburg Police Department that the statue would be removed for repairs. Given the long history of vandalism and theft of statues on Snell Isle, both neighbors and police assumed that Fall had been stolen.

"It's just like a bad joke," said Precella Wallace, president of the Snell Isle Neighborhood Association. "It's deplorable that nobody told us they were taking the statue. We never would have called the police if we had known it was just being repaired," said Wallace after learning about the mixup from a St. Petersburg Times reporter.

The same is true of Officer Ray Merritt of the Police Department, who filed a theft report for the sculpture.

"I'm surprised the Parks Department didn't contact us or the neighborhood association to let us know they were taking the statue," he said. "I wouldn't have filed the police report if I knew they were repairing it."

In response to the mixup, Mike Vineyard, park operations manager at the St. Petersburg Parks Department, said the city simply never thought to tell neighbors that the piece would be removed.

"We just don't make a habit of notifying the public when we're making repairs. That's how we've generally done it in the past," Vineyard said.

Joe Castro, operations foreman of the department, also never thought to tell neighbors the statue would be removed.

"I just thought I was doing a good thing by having it fixed. I didn't think I had to go around and tell the neighbors we'd be doing it … we don't usually communicate with the neighbors when we're doing repairs," Castro said, adding that plans are in the works to repair all four sculptures in the set. "I'm actually surprised the police or the neighbors didn't come to the Parks Department. You would think they would."

"How were we supposed to know they took it?" Wallace asked. "They never left a note, never sent out a letter and nobody asked if they could take it. We've had problems with vandalism for years, so why were we not supposed to think it was stolen? Even the police thought it was."

Adding to the confusion was the actual time the statue was taken by the city. Residents noticed the sculpture missing on Oct. 11, but the sculpting company said it had removed the statue two weeks before that.

"I guess nobody noticed it was gone for those two weeks," said Chris Karlik, 40, Jerry's son and an employee at the sculpting company. "And I'm surprised, because it's not like we did it in the middle of the night. There were three guys out there in the hot sun sweating, cursing and spitting trying to drag this 1,200-pound weight onto a truck … we barely made it out of there alive."

The city decided to repair the aging sculpture because it was tipped over about two years ago and cracked in half. The sculpting company is using epoxy glue to fuse the two halves.

Had the Parks Department notified the neighborhood association of the repair beforehand, it would have discovered that one of the neighbors possessed a severed arm of the sculpture that cracked off when it was tipped two years ago. When she learned that the statue was in the shop, Wallace contacted Karlik to deliver the arm.

"We're really happy and relieved that our statue was never stolen and that it's being fixed," Wallace said.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said the city will "look into improving communication in the future."

Snell Isle statue's in good hands after all 10/21/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 6:25pm]
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