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Snell Isle residents mourn the theft of a valued artistic statue.
Published Oct. 21, 2008

Snell Isle just lost a piece of its history.

For decades, four marble Italian sculptures of Romanesque women - each representing one of the four seasons - occupied corners of Snell Isle Park. The park is now one season short of a full year.

Sometime early last Saturday morning the nearly life-size statue on the northwest corner of the park was stolen. All that remains is the 12-inch-square depression where the sculpture once stood.

"It's like somebody coming into your home and taking something that's totally irreplaceable," said Precella Wallace, president of the Snell Isle Neighborhood Association. "They stole part of the beauty that makes up Snell Isle. They took away part of our past."

The four distinctive sculptures, titled The Four Seasons, are original works from Giulio Aristide Sartorio, an Italian who carved them sometime in the early 1900s. Sartorio was a painter, sculptor and filmmaker and is well-known for his watercolor paintings. His works are displayed in galleries around the world. The statues are made of solid Carrara marble mined from Tuscany, Italy.

"They had to be some big strong thieves because this thing must be well over 500 pounds," said Officer Ray Merritt of the St. Petersburg Police Department, who responded to the call. "My guess is they used some sort of handcart to get it around the huge bush behind it and loaded it into a pickup truck," he said. He said the Police Department has no leads on the theft.

The stolen piece presumably represents the season of autumn, with the three remaining sculptures having winter, spring and summer themes. They once stood in Mirror Lake Park near downtown St. Petersburg but were moved to Snell Isle in 1989.

According to a St. Petersburg Times story from 1927, these statues were originally displayed at the 1910 Turin Exhibition in Italy.

"They're really special. Not just for the people of Snell Isle, but for the art world and history," Wallace said.

In the 1920s, they were purchased by St. Petersburg developer C. Perry Snell, for whom the island is named, during his extensive tour of Europe. On his trip, he bought dozens of other works that have adorned Snell Isle through the years.

Snell donated a similar set of season-themed statues to Western Kentucky University in his native Bowling Green, Ky., in the 1920s. According to the Smithsonian Institution, those sculptures portray partially clad women holding various seasonal objects above their heads. The sculptures in Snell Isle feature women holding items by their sides. Both sets of sculptures were done by Sartorio.

Dot Admire, a longtime resident and former president of the Snell Isle Neighborhood Association, was the first to notice the statue was missing.

"I was going to church Saturday night, and I saw a big empty spot where one of The Four Seasons statues was supposed to be," Admire, 73, said. "My first thought was, 'Ugh, not again.' It's truly sad how our island has been plagued with people stealing and vandalizing these statues for years."

In 1994, vandals damaged a statue of the Three Graces, symbolizing beauty, love and pleasure in Greek and Roman mythology. That statue was valued at about $20,000. Other vandalized works on Snell Isle include sculptures of Griffin, a mythical winged lion, and a statue of Hercules.

"This isn't the first time they tried to steal that statue," Admire said. "About two years ago, somebody tried to take it, but all they did was tip it over and crack it in half." One of the neighbors on Snell Isle installed a piece of rebar in the statue to prevent it from falling apart. "I guess they got it this time," Admire said.

It is unclear exactly how much the stolen Sartorio sculpture is worth, but one of the artist's paintings recently sold for more than $83,000 at a Christie's auction.

"What's important is that it's part of history and part of the lifestyle here on Snell Isle. That can't be replaced with money," Admire said.