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It'll carve niche for local artwork

As the city sweltered and sweated on its way up to 95 degrees, Valerie Coleman heard a refreshing sound _ water splashing over a fountain and into a pool _ and looked up.

Out the door of Plant Hall at the University of Tampa, across the wide porch and in a public promenade, Coleman's eyes fixed on a sculpture memorializing shipping and railroad tycoon Henry Bradley Plant.

"I was just sitting here looking out at it," Coleman said, shifting to show how she peered out at the sculpture called Transportation. "I was trying to figure out what it is. I've got to get a closer look."

The sculpture features the stern of a ship and a pair of oars flanked on either side by nude figures standing in seashells. One holds a ship aloft and the other a train. An eagle at the top of the sculpture, with a wingspan of 8 feet, holds a money box in its talons.

The fountain sculpture was created by George Grey Barnard in 1900 and might be the oldest in the area. It is one of an estimated 150 outdoor sculptures that the volunteer group, Save Outdoor Sculpture, will document in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property are sponsoring a massive volunteer project to record the whereabouts, the background and the condition of the nation's outdoor sculpture.

The survey will provide basic information that can be used by scholars, students and art historians, said Marianne Eggler-Gerozissis, who is coordinating the project through the city of Tampa's Art in Public Places program.

The survey also will assess the condition of the nation's outdoor sculpture collection and, with any luck, draw public attention to it.

"This project is hopefully going to raise public awareness about outdoor sculpture because it is a part of our history," Eggler-Gerozissis said.

Officials from the Henry B. Plant Museum said they were surprised to learn that Barnard, who sculpted Transportation, was considered one of the most romantic and original sculptors of his generation, according to the Dictionary of American Art.

Although the Barnard sculpture has graced the site of the Tampa Bay Hotel since 1900, officials from the Plant Museum said they didn't have much information about who commissioned the work or about the sculptor.

Other sculptures by Barnard, a native of Pennsylvania, include Pan at Columbia University, the Struggle of the Two Natures in Man at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a bronze-cast sculpture, Abraham Lincoln, in Cincinnati.

About 50 volunteers have taken the training program in the four-county area and are signed up to do surveys, Eggler-Gerozissis said, but more are needed. Volunteers can hunt for sculptures, do surveys from a list or do research, she said. The final training session will be held July 17 in Zephyrhills for anyone who wants to participate.

In Hillsborough County, volunteers have surveyed the Arcade bridges that appear through a stand of trees to visitors to Al Lopez Park and the mile markers that runners race over on Bayshore Boulevard.

Sculptures that memorialize heroes like Jose Marti in Ybor City and Hall of Famer Al Lopez in Al Lopez Park will be included.

The survey also will record information on the mammoth modern pieces that populate downtown Tampa, like the giant Slinky-like object in front of City Hall Plaza on the Franklin Street Mall and the yellow, black and white "exploding chicken" at NationsBank on Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard by George Sugarman.

The final training session will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 17 at the Pasco County New River Branch Library, 3403 State Road 54, Zephyrhills. Call 227-7736 or 847-8140 for information.