The Moby Dick sculpture, which is part of the Northland Art Collection, was recently installed in the fountain at the Southfield Public Library, 26000 Evergreen Road.

The Moby Dick sculpture, which is part of the Northland Art Collection, was recently installed in the fountain at the Southfield Public Library, 26000 Evergreen Road.

Photo by Deb Jacques

A whale of a fountain

‘Moby Dick’ installed in front of library 

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published March 6, 2019


SOUTHFIELD — Call me Ishmael. 

A sculpture named after the titular character of Moby Dick, the 1851 novel by Herman Melville, was installed Feb. 21 in the fountain in front of the Southfield Public Library, 26000 Evergreen Road. 

It  was created by American sculptor Joseph Anthony McDonnell, and was commissioned in 1966 by the J.L. Hudson Co. for Northland Center. The 1,100-pound bronze sculpture and fountain was located in a courtyard in the center of the mall until 2015. 

The sculpture was placed in front of the library through the efforts of the Southfield Public Arts Commission. 

The commission is made up of 11 Southfield and Lathrup Village residents, and its goal is to promote the arts in Southfield through physical works of art in public places throughout the city.

Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said in a previous report that the commission does not take any money out of the city’s budget to fund projects. Instead, the commission raises money to purchase the artwork through fundraisers, grants, donations and private sponsorships. The group rescued many artworks from the former Northland Center.
After the mall closed in 2015, the city stepped in to seal the fate of the mall’s various art pieces.

Built in 1954, Northland Center, on Northwestern Highway, was one of the nation’s first suburban malls. Eight months after a judge ruled that Northland Center would close, the city of Southfield announced the purchase of the mall.

The city announced Oct. 7 of that year that it had purchased the mall from the court-ordered receiver for $2.4 million and planned to demolish, remediate and sell the property to a qualified developer.

Siver, who spearheaded the creation of the Southfield Public Arts Commission, said in a previous report that when he heard the art would be sold at an auction, he knew he had to act fast. The city secured a low-interest loan of $500,000 for the art pieces.

After the city secured the 11-piece collection, the commission launched the Free the Bear development campaign to raise funds to pay back the loan, get the art out of storage and have it placed around the city. The fundraiser included both a public crowdfunding component and corporate underwriting.

So far, the commission has raised around $700,000 to repay the loan, along with additional funds to restore and place the saved art throughout the city. 

Siver said the placement of Moby Dick in the library’s fountain was a natural one.  

“The library fountain was broken and it was really not practical for Michigan’s climate,” Siver said. “The library fountain opened in 2003 when the library opened, and it worked for maybe six years out of the 16 years it’s been open.”

The fountain itself will be downsized from its original design, Siver said. 

While the repairs will cost close to $178,000, Siver said the commission is busy raising money to fund the repairs, and no tax dollars have been or will be used on the project. 

 “A number of attempts were made to repair it, but it’s not worth repairing because it’s not practical. It was a lagoon, which was really so impractical for this climate with the tree leaves and the pine needles and the grass clippings,” Siver said. “It’s got an underground control that flooded, so it’s not been operable for 10 years, and it’s just getting worse. The base of the lagoon was falling apart and the edges were sprawling.” 

Once finished, the restored and reconfigured library fountain will feature new lighting and landscaping with the sculpture as a centerpiece that sprays water.

Evan Dutton, project manager at Marc Dutton Irrigation, said crews have been working hard to get the fountain back in working order before the warmer weather hits. 

The company has worked on fountains around the metro Detroit area for 40 years, such as Detroit’s Riverwalk fountain, the fountain inside Somerset Mall in Troy, and the fountain at Greenfield Village in Dearborn. 

“First off, we basically salvaged everything that was in the pumping station, because after five years, everything in there was rusty,” Dutton said. “The only existing structure we used from the old fountain were three lines that were running from the pump station to the pool. We used those three lines to work around the foundation that we still have.” 

Dutton said that out of all the fountains he’s worked on, Moby Dick is the most unique. 

“Moby is going to have a beautiful stream of water coming out of his mouth. We have a pretty intricate nozzle for that. There will also be nozzles around him shooting water up,” Dutton said. “It’s been really interesting for me, because I have worked with this company on and off since I was 14 years old, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this.” 

Cash donations or checks made payable to the Southfield Public Arts Commission, care of the Mayor’s Office, can be sent to 26000 Evergreen Road, P.O. Box 2055, Southfield, MI 48037-2055. 

For more information, visit Information on the Southfield Public Arts Commission can be found in the Planning Department section of the website.