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Friendly, neighborhood scorpion coming to Baker Park

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I suppose as far as scorpion sculptures go, it’s very nice.

But it just isn’t what I envisioned occupying space at Baker Park, where the centerpiece was once going to be a happy carousel.

On Wednesday, Naples City Council will be asked to accept a donation of a 29-by-33-by-38-inch bronze sculpture of a scorpion by the late local artist Kathy Spalding.

The sculpture has an estimated value of $30,000 and is being given to the city by the group Friends of Rookery Bay. The city would spend about $10,000 on a capstone foundation and mounting.

The scorpion, its tail curved upward, its pincers open and reaching out, will be placed on the park’s Sunrise Terrace to greet residents out for an early morning stroll on the banks of the Gordon River.

Because of an unplanned and painful experience years ago, I have an aversion to scorpions. At my desk in an office in Bonita Springs one morning, I felt an odd itching around my collar. I reached back to investigate, and the itch became a painful burn. My hand slapped at the spot and onto the floor tumbled a brown scorpion about an inch long.

I instinctively stomped it, ending its rampage.

Then I thought, “I’ve been bitten or stung or whatever it is a scorpion does by a scorpion.”

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My limited knowledge of the arachnid had led me to believe scorpion bites or stings or whatever could be lethal, so I quickly called the fire department, right around the corner.

The firefighter who answered assured me that the varieties of scorpions found in Florida are not typically deadly to humans — unless I happened to be allergic to their venom.

“Was I allergic to their venom?” he asked.

“How the hell should I know?” I thought, but said, “I don’t think so.”

Turns out I wasn’t and the sting, which is the proper term, I learned, ended up being about as bothersome as a garden variety wasp sting.

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Which brings us back to “Scorpion,” the 1997 work of Spalding, who is described in documents accompanying the donation as “one of the most notable international sculptors of true-life bronzes in the country.”

Community Services Director Dana Souza said anytime art is offered to the city it must meet requirements of the public arts ordinance and be presented to the city’s Public Art Advisory Committee. The committee voted 5-0 in January to accept the donation.

A city staff report found the work meets the requirements of the ordinance. “The artwork is of exceptional quality and enduring value,” it states. Souza noted that the brown scorpion is native to Southwest Florida.

True enough, but how about a nice manatee or sea turtle for the serene waterside setting of Baker Park?

If being indigenous is the sole qualifier, why not a coiled rattlesnake or a swarm of fire ants?

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Even an alligator with jaws open or a panther on the prowl would be more comforting. But that’s just my anti-scorpionism talking.

Everyone’s a critic, and there will no doubt be those who appreciate Spalding’s skill and attention to detail and others who think a giant, menacing, venomous predator is not the best fit for a passive walking trail.

One thing is certain, you know it’s a scorpion.

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That’s in contrast to another recent donation of public art, the large marble sculpture the county placed on U.S. 41 East at Collier Boulevard to welcome motorists to greater Naples.

An abstract collection of blocks and curves, its meaning is left up to the beholder.

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The piece, “La Donna,” by Hungarian artist Marton Varo was donated to the county after being purchased with contributions collected by The Community Foundation. It was installed at a cost to taxpayers of about $135,000.

Reaction to that piece has been as varied as the many interpretations of its form.

The county commissioned the Varo piece, approving the design before agreeing to pursue it. The scorpion, on the other hand was offered to the city as a completed work. The scorpion lovers among us will be grateful.

(Connect with Brent Batten at brent.batten@naplesnews.com or via Facebook.)

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