An eight-foot-tall sculpture of a wizard in a couple’s front yard has sparked a debate in the village of Oakland Mills, Maryland, about what constitutes appropriate neighborhood statuary, who has the power to decide what is and isn’t art, and whether or not the towering sorcerer could help lift the community out of economic depression.
When Debbie and Roger Matherly of Macomber Lane decided to do away with a rotting pine tree in their front yard, the Baltimore Sun reports, they called in local chainsaw carver extraordinaire Evelyn Mogren (the “Pine Picasso“) to transform their stump into something magical. The resulting sculpture depicts a tall, bearded, and cloaked sorcerer clutching a tall staff, with an owl perched on his shoulder and a fox obediently seated at his feet.
As the Matherlys’ next-door neighbor Lamont McKenzie told the Sun: “It looks like that guy from the Lord of the Rings.”
But the village’s Residential Architecture Committee proved immune to the wizard’s spell, and the Matherlys were directed to explore ways of moving the sculpture into their backyard. They appealed that decision, taking their case to the Oakland Mills Village Board, where it raised questions not only about what constitutes art, but also about how closely the village’s covenants — which date back to the community’s founding in 1968 — should be adhered to, especially when the rejuvenation of the town hangs in the balance.
“With all of the vacancies of properties out there, we need something to attract people to want to buy in our area,” Tawania Williams, a member of the village board, told the Sun. “If the neighbors weren’t complaining about it, my thought was, ‘Why make these really nice homeowners move it to the back?'”
Rather than force a decision that might set a dangerous precedent for future yard art cases, the Matherlys suggested a new guideline whereby, so long as seven of the nine nearest neighbors approve of the artwork, it can stay. Though the village board has yet to vote on the approved guidelines, many see the wizard sculpture as an attraction that could bring some magic back to a community that’s fallen on hard times.
“The recession has really taken a toll on the older villages,” Oakland Mills board member Kay Wisniewski told the Sun, noting the delapidated state of an abandoned home on the same cul-de-sac as the Matherlys’ property. “This is a violation of covenants like crazy, but we apparently are helpless to do anything about that. And you continue down the street and you see this lovely statue that this community feels is important to us. This is our spirit, and if there’s one thing we need in Oakland Mills, it’s more spirit. I’m more concerned about that than an outbreak of front-yard art. So, I gritted my teeth and I said ‘yeah, I’m voting for it.'”