The removal of the iconic “Storyteller” sculpture from Charlie Loudermilk Park continues to draw controversy, with its creator and a member of an original fundraising committee now seeking $20,000 to restore pieces that have gone missing.
“To me, it is one piece of art and it was vandalized,” said Terry Brown, who chaired the Committee for the Renovation of Buckhead Park in the 1990s. “They had no right to take any part of the sculpture and give it away.”
Originally called Buckhead Park, the triangular green space at Roswell and Peachtree roads was renovated by the Buckhead Coalition in the late 1990s. The work included commissioning the “Storyteller,” a multi-statue sculpture of a buck-headed man telling a story to a circle of animals.
In recent years, the Buckhead Community Improvement District did another renovation, renaming the park for Aaron’s, Inc., founder Charlie Loudermilk and adding artwork, including a statue of him. The “Storyteller” was removed and ended up at the Buckhead Branch Library, but four of the animal statues – three turtles and a rabbit — went missing.
The turtles were given away to donors to the park’s latest renovation by Robin Loudermilk, Charlie’s son and a BCID board member, according to Massell. Robin Loudermilk has said he doesn’t remember giving away the animal sculptures, but that the main sculpture did not fit the park’s theme.
It’s not clear what happened to the rabbit.
“Storyteller” artist Frank Fleming also has complained about the sculpture’s removal, saying its new location and missing pieces ruin its intended effect.
Brown said her committee raised over $275,000 in 1997 for the park’s renovation. The committee included notable Atlanta residents such as Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett and Louise Allen, the wife of former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., according to a list provided by Brown.
Brown said the Buckhead Coalition still has some of the renovation funds, and she and Fleming want it to provide $20,000 to remake the missing sculpture elements. Brown said that she and others also have contacted BCID Executive Director Jim Durrett about funds. Durrett did not respond to a comment request.
Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell, who was also on the committee, said no one has contacted him about this subject and that all the funds were used to pay for the sculpture and renovation. Massell has said the sculpture cost $200,000 when the coalition commissioned it in 1998.
The sculpture’s new library location was chosen at Massell’s recommendation. The coalition, which had owned the sculpture, deeded it to the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
The BCID wrapped up its renovation of the park in May with the installation of a sculpture by famous Atlanta architect and artist John Portman. Also part of the renovation were a clock tower, water feature and statue of Charlie Loudermilk.
Brown said the updated park looks “ridiculous” because there are too many large features in one small park, but that Charlie Loudermilk got what he always wanted – a clock tower.
The park’s current design was funded in part by private donations through a brick campaign that allowed donors to have their name put on a brick of the clock tower. Loudermilk Park is a public park owned by the city, which usually does not allow those types of donations, but the park received permission from the city in a memorandum of understanding signed in February 2015.
“It’s all kosher,” said Mike Calevski, the communications manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The sculpture and clock tower also went through the city’s design review process, which any park projects go through, and the memorandum also states the city has final say on any changes in the park.
“The MOU shall make clear that the city owns the park and shall have authority to make all final decisions regarding the park, but shall exercise its authority in the spirit of good faith cooperation with BCID,” the document says.