VENTNOR, N.J. — It took Elyssa Glenn a week to transform the dull gray utility box that controls the lights at Atlantic and Dorset Avenues into a brilliantly colored totem pole designed to protect this Shore town from violent storms.

Using her own materials and volunteering her time, she gave the giant face waves for hair and fish for eyes, added a broad nose and piano-key teeth, then festooned its body with bands of green, red, yellow, and black.

Tuesday morning, it took city workers just five minutes to paint over her work.

Too Rastafarian, complained one neighbor. Promotes pot-smoking, another said.

And so with that eight-foot-high totem now gone for good, wouldn't you know that Ventnor's new administration is facing its first political tempest.

Glenn, a 44-year-old jewelry artist, has lived year-round for a quarter-century in this resort community on Absecon Island. Her husband, Tom, is a fisherman and crabber who grew up next door in Margate.

She was at work Tuesday when she went online and read a Facebook post from a friend who had watched the city whitewash her design.

She was horrified. She still is.

"It took me 28 hours to do just the face," she said. "This is most upsetting."

She and several other local artists had been asked by Victoria Clark, director of the Ventnor City Cultural Arts Center, to spruce up a dozen or so utility boxes with seashore themes. Glenn picked the colors because they're popular with kids and reminded her of vacation. She hadn't even finished her work last month when she sensed trouble.

She'd paused to photograph her work with her 15-year-old son, Sky, by her side. An elderly woman approached her from a baronial house that had a for-sale sign planted on the lawn.

"At first I thought she was a summer person. She waited until I was done and then she started screaming at me.

"She asked me, who said I could paint that? What is it?"

Glenn told the woman she'd created a totem pole, and started to explain her intent.

"?'No, it's not,' the woman said. 'It's a Rastafarian, and you should be ashamed of yourself.' I looked at her and said, 'Oh, great. Here we go.'?"

Glenn says she's heard that three, maybe four people, complained to the city. Soon she was having a conversation with Mayor Mike Bagnell, who was elected May 8.

"He was actually very nice," Glenn said, "yet he was very — he said, 'These are really nice homes, people have lived here a million years, and they're not happy.'?"

The mayor ordered the city workers to paint over Glenn's design, according to the city's management specialist, Tom Quirk. "It's an unfortunate situation," Quirk said.

As word spread of the cleansing, residents took sides this week. Emily Van Duyne wrote on the Better for Ventnor Facebook page how "thoroughly disappointed" she was at what happened to Glenn. "She is a lovely person, a Ventnor artist and mother who volunteered her time and materials to help beautify the city; destroying that work to appease a few small-minded people is a shame to say the least. More like a crime."

Linda Zapp wrote that the "Rastafarian box" was better located on the Ventnor Avenue commercial strip: "It is nice but it does NOT fit in with the big beautiful homes showcased on Atlantic Avenue in St Leonards Tract."

The location is everything, Quirk acknowledged. St. Leonards Tract, where Glenn decorated the utility box, is the city's most pricey and most historic neighborhood, dating to 1896.

Quirk said he wishes the placement of the boxes had been better coordinated, and noted that the project originated with the previous administration.

He led me on a quick tour of the painted boxes Wednesday morning, emphasizing that "no one did anything wrong." He said he hoped the fuss would blow over.

I saw boxes decorated with seahorses, sunflowers and gulls, flip-flops, sunbursts, surfers, butterflies, blue heron, irises, umbrellas.

His tour ended outside Shellem's Surf Shack on Ventnor Avenue, where a utility box bears electric blues and reds and is decorated with a painting of a boom box. He then pointed to the window display, where a giant wooden totem pole keeps watch.

"If Elyssa had painted her design here," he said, "we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Glenn says she won't be doing any more utility boxes, even if begged.

"Not in Ventnor," she said.

It's a shame. Her design said to me that interesting people live here. We don't want that now.