A now well known controversy has arisen over a 400 pound bronze statue of Lucille Ball with a mouth full of the dreaded Vitameatavegamin that has stood in Celoron Park for the last six years. While there is no disputing taste, someone – no one knows who, but someone hiding behind the social media name “We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue” – has raised the issue to a national media frenzy.
When Beautiful Turns Ugly
A real actor has the courage to disappear behind an ugly face for the sake of a role. One hour on Netflix will prove that to any doubter. Lucille Ball did that over and over again and a thousand photographs can prove it. Recall her chocolate candy-stuffed cheeks, her look of horror when Ricky found her out in one more outrageous stunt…or the stomach churning, face twisting effect of a mouth full of the now legendary Vitameatavegamin. Not even a spoonful of sugar would have helped that medicine go down. Lucy’s face made it so, not the script.
According to perezhilton.com, “…it [Celoron’s Lucy statue] looks straight-up terrifying instead of adorably charming like the real Lucille.” This artistically misguided comment begs the question, “How would you look – trying to smile into the unblinking lens of a TV camera – with a startling mouthful of Vitameatavegamin?” If Lucy had followed that gulp with a face of angelic sweetness the whole episode would have rightfully gone down in flames.
“The commission I accepted from the family who paid for the sculpture was to freeze that moment in bronze,” sculptor David Poulin told the Jamestown Gazette shortly after Celoron Mayor Schrecengost’s April 7 press conference about the statue. “That’s exactly what they asked for. Maybe I shouldn’t have accepted the commission, but I did my best and made the artistic choices I had to.” Poulin acknowledged that the Vitameatavegamin scene might not be the place to go for Lucy’s most adorably charming face. “That pose is probably not the one I would have chosen.”
Dave Poulin’s more than 120 publically commissioned, life-sized bronze sculptures displayed worldwide to positive acclaim and awards leave no doubt about his accomplishments as a fine artist. After earning a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture from Alfred University, Dave spent eight years as a professor at St. Bonaventure University. Since then, as a full time artist, he has lived, worked, lectured and traveled throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico as well as Germany, France, Brazil, Japan, China, Egypt and the exotic island nation of Grenada. Readers can visit his on-line gallery and learn more at http://www.davepoulinstudios.com.
Many local parents also gratefully recall his contributions to area school programs. “Dave has been a tremendous asset to our community,” said Len Barry, now at the Reg Lenna Center for the Fine Arts. “I’ve spent 30 years teaching and working with kids,” Poulin added, “just trying to do good.”
“Dave and I collaborated on many school arts programs when I was program coordinator for the Arts Council for Chautauqua County,” Barry said. “Dave helped students learn the art of sculpting in clay and he even had them contribute to the foundations of some of his public sculptures.” Barry expressed surprise at some of the venomous comments recently circulated on an anonymous Facebook page.
“I’ve been very blessed,” Poulin said,” doing what I’ve always loved, especially when I can do a work that someone loves.”
Regardless of varying opinions about the statue itself, the media have certainly brought more attention to Celoron. “I’ve seen more tour busses, foot traffic and picture taking at the park in the last few weeks than I’ve seen in years,” said a local business owner. “It’s been good for business.”
The individual who posted the website has also expressed surprise. “For three years [following the original Facebook post] it sat there with about 20 likes. I had NO IDEA … in my wildest dreams…. did I ever imagine that it would go viral like it did.” In the “Internet Age” social media users have learned a new truth: “Once posted – Never gone!” A reporter in a distant city facing a slow news day and a deadline may have more to do with a story going viral than the first poster ever intended.
Supporters Signing On
“At first, the responses I heard were pretty negative,” Poulin admitted. “But more recently I’ve received more and more supportive comments and I’m truly appreciative.”
“Julia Arnaz, Desi Jr.’s daughter, has contacted me,” Poulin said. “She told me she was very sorry for the hard times I’ve experienced over her grandmother’s statue and wanted me to know she completely supported me.” Julia was also disappointed by what amounted to anonymous sniping rather than artistic critique.
A number of other local people with a real interest in Lucy’s legacy, both personally and professionally, have also contacted Poulin to express appreciation for his life’s work and his contributions to the community. While neither like nor dislike for the Celoron Park Lucy is unanimous, a backlash against what some are calling a mean-spirited, anonymous attack seems to be growing.
In a recent on-line chat with the Jamestown Gazette, the individual managing the Facebook page said, “I have banned three people for posts that I think were just trying to cause trouble for me and other people on this wall. Out of the thousands and thousands of posts I have deleted about ten that were not appropriate…[and]… I have repeated[ly] posted that we should not disparage the entire body of work of the artist. I have “stood up” for the artist probably more than anyone else.” The difference between honest criticism and insult, however, appears to be the question that remains in the minds of many.
“It’s been years since I poured that bronze [for the statue]” Poulin said, “and I’m sure I could interpret Lucy’s crazy Vitameatavegamin grimace in a different way today. Everything you do creatively is a challenge at every given moment. You simply have to be in the arena giving your best effort. There’s a myth about the creative process,” Poulin explained, “that it just comes naturally. It is hard work and it continues to grow with your work over time.”
“People should realize artists and creative people are their own hardest critics,” Poulin said. “We are always trying to improve. Creativity is a hard-earned gift.” Poulin has offered to contribute personally and financially to a rework of the statue, if asked.
Mayor Schrecengost has announced, however, that he and Celoron’s previous mayor have contacted a different sculptor about “fixing” the sculpture at a cost possibly as low as $5,000 for a “rework” from the shoulders up. Questions would remain, however, according to another local artist, regarding whether the resulting hybrid object would be a work of art attributable to an artist or merely a large, bronze commodity.
“About five years ago I first approached the mayor of Celoron to discuss redoing the sculpture,” Poulin wrote in an April 6 letter published in The Hollywood Reporter. “Since then, I have had several conversations and correspondences with Celeron expressing my desire and willingness to remove and redo Lucy… I’m still willing to work with them.”
As an ethically honest creative artist, Poulin also wrote, “I take full responsibility for my work though by no means did I wish to disparage in any way the memories of the iconic Lucy image.”
Members of the press who gathered around the statue after Mayor Schrecengost’s press conference widely voiced an opinion – based on their own experiences in the media – that a creative artist may occasionally do better. Anonymous sniping that gathers thousands of social media gawkers, however, appears more like bullying than sincere feedback, especially when aimed at a respected local citizen who has contributed so much to his community and the art world.
Poulin responds to the controversy with a personal message to his friends and neighbors. “Over the years, I have felt blessed to have inspired and touched the lives of thousands of people who do enjoy my other works, and am heartsick at the feelings that have been evoked as a result of the Celeron Lucy.”