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Sculpture a start for Largo art

An official says Largo had never encouraged public art. Now, two more pieces are in the works.

Atop a berm outside the Largo Cultural Center in Largo Central Park sits a long-awaited sculpture.

For the city, it is the first of what some hope will become a collection of public art.

This sculpture, which depicts different disciplines of both visual and performing arts as well as historical milestones, is a carved piece of sand-colored, aerated concrete that stands 14-feet tall. It is to be dedicated at a brief ceremony at 4:15 p.m. today.

"It's a wonderful beginning," said Cathy Santa, recreation and parks director. "The city has never encouraged public art before."

Tampa artist J.J. Watts, who created the sculpture during a two-year period, will attend the dedication ceremony. She said Monday she consulted with local residents before beginning the project.

"They told me what was important as far as the history of the city's development," Watts said. As a result of those talks, Watts has etched on the base of the sculpture a railroad steam engine, the early Largo High School building, a dairy-man, a branch from a citrus tree and a Timucuan Indian.

At the top are carvings of ballet shoes, an artist's palette, two masks representing tragedy and comedy, and a guitar. Acrylic silhouettes in red, green, blue and gold highlight the carvings.

The most troublesome part of the sculpture for Watts and the city's parks department was the fountain inside. For months, there was a leak and no one could detect the source. "Finally someone found it in a planter," Watts said.

Monday morning, the fountain was working fine. Gentle sheets of water seeped down the sides of the sculpture, past the planters filled with jasmine, periwinkle and Mexican heather.

"It's a nice thing," said Largo's Vice Mayor Bob Jackson. "I'm not sure I have much of an eye for art but I support it as long as we're not spending taxpayers money for it."

The sculpture, which cost $60,000, was paid for with money donated by the Priscilla Rugg Foundation, Sun Coast Hospital, and Stedman Insurance of Sarasota. Friends of a former recreation volunteer, James Leo Sullivan, purchased a marble bench that sits on one side of the sculpture. Sullivan died March 2, 1997. Plaques recognizing the donors are implanted in a concrete circle surrounding the sculpture.

Santa said the city is in the process of commissioning two additional sculptures. Seven sites in Largo Central Park have been designated as possible locations, she said. The artists, to be selected by a committee, will decide which sites would best display their work.