It seemed oddly appropriate that the unveiling ceremony for the new sculpture at the intersection of Collier Boulevard and U.S. 41, was frequently punctuated with the sounds of construction vehicles shifting gears as they passed through the intersection on Friday morning in East Naples.
What was once a four–way stop with a flashing traffic light signal for a pair of lightly traveled two–lane roads in the 1970s is now a major intersection in a rapidly growing area of Naples.
Members of the county’s growth management department, transportation, road maintenance and traffic operations teams were in attendance, along with Collier County commissioners Donna Fiala and Penny Taylor and Deputy County Manager Nick Casalanguida, to unveil Hungarian sculpture artist Marton Varo’s abstract sculpture La Donna.
Members of the Lely High School band were on hand to entertain the crowd with patriotic songs.
Commissioner Fiala is instrumental in spearheading the drive for the statue, that will enjoy increased visibility in the future when an overpass is built over the current intersection.
In fact, the sculpture is expected to be a lasting tribute to Fiala, who has served on the Collier County Board of County Commissioners for nearly 20 years.
“She didn’t know she was doing it,” said Commissioner Taylor, “but Donna Fiala is the pioneer of public art in Collier County.”
“One day, when traffic builds up—as we know it will,” stated Casalanguida, “we will have an overpass similar to the one at Golden Gate Parkway. Commissioner Fiala is always very good at prodding me about, ‘How will it look? Will we have landscaping in there?’
“Although I didn’t know how we would get the money for it at the time, I made her that promise. I said that there will be a big median in the middle of the intersection, and wouldn’t it be neat to put something in there? I was thinking maybe a fountain or some public art? Then I saw her eyes perk up like I had planted a seed. Right away she started thinking about it and reached out to certain people. It’s something when you give an idea to an elected official who has the pulse of the community and they run with it.”
“Nick said we need public art here,” Donna Fiala explained, “so we sent out an RFP (Request for Proposal). Because you have to have these things in front of the folks, so anyone who wants to bid on it can. We were asking for public art, and we got a number of responses back, but it really wasn’t what we were looking for.
“Nick said, ‘You know, I had envisioned something a little different.’ And I said, ‘Like maybe a statue?’ And he said ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You know what? I know a sculptor. He doesn’t live here, but he’s a Hungarian. I met him at the Hungarian-American Club. He lives in L.A., but he might be interested.’ So I gave Marton Varo a call. And the rest is history.”
Fiala recalls when she first proposed the idea of a sculpture to Varo. “He said, ‘Donna, I’m not going to make a sculpture of a fish. And I don’t do a sculpture of a woman or an angel in the middle of a road.’
“I said, ‘Why don’t you tell us what you think would be best?’
“He said, ’The only thing you can put in the middle of the road is an abstract.’
“So he flew out here from L.A. He lives in L.A., but he carves in Carrara, Italy.”
Carrara is a city in Tuscany, in Central Italy, that is noted for the white or blue-grey marble quarried there. Varo, the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship in 1988, selected marble from the same quarry in Carrara that Michelangelo used. Locally, Varo is known for creating the 30-foot sculpture of the Annunciation at Ave Maria.
La Donna is 15 feet high and weighs approximately 22 tons. It was shipped to the United States in sections and carefully placed together on Collier Boulevard just north of U.S. 41.
“We needed to find someone to pay for it,” Fiala said, “because you can’t ask the taxpayers to pay for it. We approached people who have developments right around here, who might benefit from it most. Almost without exception, everybody said yes. We found a lot of cooperation. So with them throwing some dollars into it, we were able to move forward and here we are today. So, you’re going to get to see what an abstract looks like. And it doesn’t look like a fish.”
After the project was already underway, commissioner Penny Taylor was appointed chairman of public art for Collier County.
“Next month, or maybe as late as early April,” Taylor began, “a strategic plan for public arts is coming to the county. What it does is value artists, values what art brings to us. There’s many different definitions of art. It’s not just sculpture, it’s not just paintings. There can be murals, there can be fountains, music, food. Food is a very big part of it. The botanical gardens is one of the finest examples of public art in the whole county.”
Varo explained his thought process regarding his creation and his hopes for the future of art in the community. “We agreed that it was not going to be a fish or a woman or anything that would distract the attention of the drivers. Sometimes life produces these coincidences. Naples is named after an Italian town. The marble comes from Carrera, a town in Italy. The international language of sculpture is Italian. I said, ‘At least the name should be Italian.’ So, I gave it La Donna. So thank you to everyone who supported this. I hope this is just the first step and that there will be more sculptures to follow. Because I believe art is a very important part of life. You see the impact of art when you go to a place where art is a part of the public. Art is everywhere.”