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Revamped sculpture reflects city's industrial past

Jordan Crawford | 10/31/2013, 3:24 p.m.
A Portsmouth sculpture has been placed at the entrance to Paradise Creek Nature Park.

An industrial-themed sculpture that was created in 1983 has been repurposed and placed at the entrance to Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth.

The artwork is not typical of a nature park. There is no form of wildlife represented in it. It instead portrays two men working together to raise a crane.

Some would say this is more of a tribute to the city’s industrial heritage; especially the shipyard residents have said was right down the street.

But members of the Elizabeth River Project felt it belonged.

“This 40-acre creekside woodland has become a symbol of efforts to restore the balance between a thriving industrial harbor and the health of the river that sustains it,” said Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, executive director of the Elizabeth River Project.

The park is in an area that has been home to industry workers since the Colonial shipbuilding days. Today, some of those industrial neighbors are among those trying to undo damage.

Jackson and another staff member pointed out nearby projects and companies of the like.

“It’s sort of like a little oasis in the middle of industry,” she said. “But the industry is all part of the story.”

Osprey stands poke out of an 11-acre tidal wetland area that exists now because the Virginia Port Authority dug out a portion of the creek filled in the 1950s.

Enviva, a company that stores wood pellets in a giant silo across from the wetlands, planted hundreds of trees in the park. And even the new South Norfolk Jordan Bridge was built with a coating that absorbs pollution.

Hundreds of volunteers pitched in, too.

They helped cut back acres of invasive species and planted 10,000 native trees, shrubs and flowering plants that will bring migratory birds and other wildlife back to the area.

Other amenities are on the way, including an educational pavilion and a canoe and kayak launch. The park will be the first in the area to offer visitors clear-bottom kayaks, Jackson said.

But the organization wanted a piece of artwork at the gateway to reflect the meaning of the park. They didn’t have to go far.

Members had done a shoreline wetlands restoration project with owners of the former Peck Iron and Metal.

While on-site, they saw the sculpture on the company’s property. Sculpted by Peruko Ccopacatty, a Peruvian artist who lived in Norfolk in the early 1980s, it represented the history of the creek, according to Jackson.

David and Stanley Peck, the company’s owners, agreed to donate the piece to the park.

“I understand that he walked around Peck Iron and Metal and would just pick up pieces and figure out where they went,” Jackson said about Ccopacatty.

Stanley Peck, a Norfolk resident, befriended Ccopacatty in the early 1980s.

He said what he liked most was that Ccopacatty did sculptures of people without faces, and yet facial expressions are somehow discernible.

Ccopacatty lives in Rhode Island now. In 2003, he won the United Nations Society of Writers and Artists Award of Excellence.

He was installing another sculpture in another park on Friday and could not be reached for comment. An explanation of his work that can be found on his website reinforces why Paradise Creek Nature Park should be the sculpture’s new home.

“He uses the material of technology to sympathize with a humanity victimized by its own discoveries. He hopes in liberating metal to art and in reuse of the discarded, to relate the idea of humanity as its own solution.”

And now one of those artworks stands sentry at a park that strives for just that.

The nature park officially opened in June with 400 visitors and a dozen scientists who helped count 188 species of birds, bugs and fish.

“The sculpture was installed earlier this month, and people seem intrigued,” said Jackson. “They walk around it and just stare.”