Time to check out more armillary spheres


Steven Weitzman’s armillary sphere at the corner of Friendship Boulevard and Willard Avenue in Friendship Heights. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist June 29, 2013

Have we at last found the missing Meridian Hill Park armillary sphere?

No, I’m afraid not. But after my recent column on the handsome bronze armillary sphere that once graced the park on 16th Street NW, several readers sent the coordinates of sculptures they felt were suspiciously similar to that created by C. Paul Jennewein and dedicated in 1936 in honor of Edith Noyes.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

For example, there is a big round metal thing in front of the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Arlington County at 700 Army Navy Dr. It sure looks like an armillary sphere, an ancient device that can be used to tell time and model other celestial events.

It was created in 1987 by Miley Tucker-Frost , who at the time used the name Miley Busiek. It was commissioned by the Lincoln Property Group, developers of the complex near Pentagon City. When the building opened, the lead tenant was the U.S. Marshals Service. The name of the work is “Peace Through Strength,” and it features patriotic symbols, including a star motif along the wide hemispheric band and heraldic eagles on the finial.

“I especially like armillary spheres,” said Miley, who lived in Texas when she created the work and now lives in Northern Virginia. “As you know, they were ancient instruments.”

Miley specializes in monumental sculptures and also designed the reverse of the U. S. gold bullion coin, which features a family of eagles.

Miley said the Arlington sculpture does not actually function as a sundial. For that, you’ll need to head over to the intersection of Friendship Boulevard and Willard Avenue in Friendship Heights and check out yet another big armillary sphere. The inner surface of its wide hemispheric band is marked with Roman numerals, indicating the time when struck by the shadow from a central pole.

The 2002 piece is by Steven Weitzman , who admits to being fascinated by time. Twelve sea gulls seem to soar above the top of the globe, illustrating the notion that “time flies.”

“It’s a continuous theme that pops up every so often,” said Steven, who works from a studio in Brentwood. “It’s a universal theme, so other people might also find it interesting.”

Besides his figurative sculpture (it’s his statue of Frederick Douglass that recently moved to the U.S. Capitol), Steven designs decorative elements for bridges and highways. A highway interchange in Wichita features a 25-foot-high sundial, with a gnomon sticking straight out horizontally casting a shadow.

Steven’s Friendship Heights armillary sphere is only part of his temporal work in that location. Nearby is a fountain designed to operate as a clock, with certain jets going off at certain times to indicate the hours and minutes. Unfortunately, while the water still flows, it’s no longer calibrated to tell time. Don’t depend on it to get to your appointment.

“The functionality of these things takes very specific maintenance,” Steven said.

Answer Man mentioned that several readers wondered whether the sphere in Friendship Heights was the same one that had been in Meridian Hill Park. In other words, Mr. Weitzman, did you steal that sphere? “No, this is one I made on my own,” he said.

And so our search for Meridian Hill’s missing sphere goes on.

Summertime

While we’re talking about time, now is the perfect time to remind you that we’re deep into this summer’s fundraising campaign for Camp Moss Hollow. That’s the summer camp in Fauquier County to which thousands of underprivileged kids from the Washington area have been going for 45 years.

For many, it will be their only chance to experience nature on such intimate terms. With their gifts, readers of The Washington Post help ensure that Moss Hollow can be a green oasis for kids eager to leave the city.

To make your tax-deductible donation, simply go to washingtonpost.com/camp and click where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15251-0045.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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