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'Big Max' sculpture to move to St. Petersburg's Straub Park

American sculptor John Henry created his red-painted steel work, Big Max, around the time his grandson, Max, was born.

Tampa Museum of Art | Times files (2009)

American sculptor John Henry created his red-painted steel work, Big Max, around the time his grandson, Max, was born.

TAMPA — Big Max is moving, and Tampa's loss will be St. Petersburg's gain.

The sculpture, which looks like giant red pickup sticks, has been on display at MacDill Park in downtown Tampa since 2008. But the agreement that kept it there expired in May, and city officials did not renew it.

Now, Big Max will head to Straub Park.

For John Henry, Big Max was "one of those pieces that languished for a long time."

Henry, a sculptor, said he does not care much for naming his projects. About the time he started the sculpture in the mid 1980s, his grandson was born.

"The irony of Big Max was that Max was born at a pound-and-a half. He was anything but big," said Henry, 67.

Big Max used to catch drivers' eyes in front of the fire station on Main Street in Chattanooga, Tenn., its first home. Big Max soon came to MacDill Park in 2008 as part of the statewide show of Henry's work, "Drawing in Space: The Peninsula Project." The triangular behemoth, nearly three stories tall, was on loan until May 2010.

The work remained in Tampa on a monthly lease until its owners found it a permanent home. Henry estimates its value at $500,000.

Santiago Corrada, the city of Tampa's Convention Center and tourism administrator, helped bring it here.

Henry paid to have Big Max brought to Tampa and installed through May 2010. City officials expected Big Max would be on its way May 31.

"It's a nice way to rotate public art through your green spaces, if you can accommodate them, and in this tight economic situation it's a good way for the artist to have the exposure and for us to have a nice piece of public art on display at no cost," Corrada said.

When the agreement expired in May, the city initiated a month-to-month agreement with the sculptor when he said he was working on a deal to sell it.

"It really is not hurting anything, but it needs to go on its way somewhere," said Herb Fecker, director of the city of Tampa real estate department.

"A month-to-month means you are at the mercy of the landlord and that would be the city and when we say that's enough, that's it. For now Max is still there, and his owners need to sell him or rent him to someone else."

That someone else is St. Petersburg.

A couple of months ago, Henry approached St. Petersburg City Council member Leslie Curran with the idea of bringing Big Max to Straub Park. Soon after, the city staff drafted an agreement to bring the big red sticks to the park for 18 months.

Henry will pay the city $100 to keep the sculpture on display. Curran was working on getting private donations to help bring it to St. Petersburg and pay for the installation before she was injured in a bicycle accident in August. Council member Jeff Danner has taken up the cause.

Officials expect to move Big Max within the next month.

When Big Max leaves Tampa, there are no plans to bring in a new piece of art.

"It was always on loan." Corrada said. "We're happy that we were able to have it for as long as we did."

'Big Max' sculpture to move to St. Petersburg's Straub Park 10/08/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 9, 2010 12:53am]

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