A beloved South Jersey sculpture of a smiling boy atop a happy elephant must find a new home.
But first, the 12- by 11-foot fiberglass work must escape the darkness of the doomed Burlington Center, where it served for years as the centerpiece of a fountain adjacent to a Strawbridge & Clothier store.
Moonbeam Capital Investments, the owner of the mall in Burlington Township, plans to redevelop the site and is willing to donate the sculpture, which was commissioned by G. Stockton Strawbridge, top executive of the family-owned department store chain.
“It’s a wonderful piece of art,” Steven Maksin, a principal of Moonbeam Capital, told me from his New York office.
He and his wife, Natalie, “both believe the sculpture should be saved. It’s part of the history of Burlington, of the area, and we are happy to donate it.”
Zenos Frudakis, whose public work includes the larger-than-life (and lately controversial) statue of Frank Rizzo across from City Hall, modeled the elephant on Petal, the popular Philadelphia Zoo pachyderm.
Petal was one of a trio of African elephants scheduled to move to the Pittsburgh Zoo when she died unexpectedly on June 9, 2008. At 52, she was the oldest of her kind in an American zoo, and the sculptor had been allowed to meet her while doing research for the Strawbridge commission.
“Wow,” Frudakis said Tuesday morning, as he took a look at his sculpture — still impressive in the dry fountain, amid a semicircle of dead palm trees — in the empty court next to what had been Strawbridge’s and later a Macy’s.
Despite its forlorn surroundings, the piece remains “very lively,” he said, circling it to get a view from every direction.
“It was my first big job,” said Frudakis, 67. “I did a lot of research. I went to the Philadelphia Zoo, and they let me inside with Petal. I sketched her muscles ... but I didn’t give her as many wrinkles. This is a stylized piece. A little Art Deco and a lot Beaux-Arts. And I would love to see it saved.”
“Zenos and I have both been pretty worried the piece wouldn’t find a home,” said Rosalie Frudakis, owner of the Frudakis Studio in Glenside. “All of his sculptures are like his children, and this was his first major public commission. The model for the boy was his godson, Scott Seraydarian.”
Known variously as “The Boy and the Elephant,” “The Watering Hole” (Stockton Strawbridge’s name for it), and “Petal and the Boy,” the piece “has lots of fans,” she said.
"I hear from them all the time, asking what’s going to happen to Petal? She was a bit of magic. You don’t expect to see an elephant at the mall,” added Frudakis, who is the sculptor’s business partner and former wife. “We would love to find an appropriate home with a nonprofit, in a place where families and children can see her.”
In the meantime, the studio has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay for the disassembly of the sculpture’s major components, removal from the mall, and transportation to safe storage until a recipient can be found.
Burlington Center was the fifth and final regional shopping mall built in South Jersey between the early 1960s and 1980s, opening in 1982 and concluding an eight-year-long death spiral with the shutdown of Sears, its sole remaining retailer, last September.
Maksin said his firm plans to begin redeveloping the mall within six months: “All I can say is it will be a beautiful redevelopment.”