“Petal” the elephant will soon depart from the doomed shopping mall in Burlington Township that’s been her home for 37 years.
But she won’t be going far.
“She’s heading to the Burlington City waterfront,” John Xuereb, a spokesperson for the studio of sculptor Zenos Frudakis, said Tuesday.
Moonbeam Capital Investments, the soon-to-be former owners of the empty Burlington Center mall on Route 541 in Burlington Township, are donating the piece to Arts Guild New Jersey.
A fund-raising effort by the Rotary Club of Burlington, as well as in-kind services on the part of club members and others, will make the move and the restoration of the sculpture possible, said club president-elect Tom Scattergood.
“I can’t say enough about Steven and Natalie Maksin of Moonbeam Capital for offering this piece to an organization like ours,” arts guild treasurer Derrick Owings said, adding that Petal "will be a cornerstone of a sculpture park” envisioned for the promenade along the Delaware River.
The beloved life-size fiberglass rendering of a smiling boy on the back of a happy elephant was modeled on, and informally named after, a popular Philadelphia Zoo pachyderm and was Frudakis' first public commission.
“You never forget your first one,” Frudakis said Tuesday, taking a break from work at his studio in Glenside, Montgomery County. He has more than 100 public commissions to his credit, including the Freedom sculpture at 16th and Vine Streets and the recently controversial Frank Rizzo sculpture in Center City.
“It’s very gratifying to me that Petal has meant something to so many people,” he said.
Indeed. Studio owner Rosalie Frudakis received more than 80 expressions of interest from individuals, organizations, and institutions all over the country after my column Dec. 11 about Moonbeam’s intention to donate the sculpture to a nonprofit, preferably local. People shared memories of tossing coins in the fountain where the sculpture stood.
“Petal was there for 37 years, and I knew people appreciated her, but I had no idea how much,” she said. “I heard from people who knew her as children, and who later brought their own children to see her.”
Owings credited the Rotarians for “saving the day” by arranging to expeditiously move the piece out of an inner courtyard at the mall — where business had dwindled for a decade before the closing of Sears, the sole remaining retailer there, in September.
Concerns about arranging and paying to remove, transport, and rehabilitate the piece in time to accommodate the property’s pending transfer of ownership were being addressed Tuesday, he said.
“We’re in a very good place and everybody is working with us to make this a very smooth transition,” said Owings.
After nearly 40 years of essentially being the centerpiece of a fountain — water trickled from the elephant’s trunk onto her back as she stood in a rocky grove of palm trees — “Petal is a bit fragile,” he said. “She needs to be prepared for outdoor living, and that’s new for Petal.”