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Tuesday, January 25, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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P-Patch's bronze Venus to stay

Seattle Times staff reporter

From a distance, the statue stirring controversy in a Wedgwood community garden is barely a speck in a 2 1/2-acre plot of plants and plowed soil. Up close, the 2-foot-tall "Picardo Venus" is larger than life.

It's been covered with garbage bags and bedecked with flowers. But after a vote by those renting plots at the Picardo Farm P-Patch, the statue of a naked, pregnant woman will stay put.

Of 72 respondents answering whether the statue should stay, 40 voted yes. Twenty-five said no, while seven voted for alternatives, such as placing it in a less prominent place in the northeast Seattle garden.

"As far as I'm concerned, this was a vote to keep the sculpture," said Rich Macdonald, P-Patch program manager.

Turnout for the "Venus" vote was low. There are 217 gardeners using the P-Patch, according to Macdonald. But among the 72 who voted, feelings ran strong.

The bronze woman, set on a multicolored tile altar, is visibly pregnant and entirely naked. Her hair is dreadlocked, and her nose is pierced. She squats on over-proportioned thighs. And, as her hands cradle her belly, her arms push her large breasts together. The statue is just feet away from a swing set.

Carol Landgraf, a Maple Leaf artist, is so angry the statue will remain, she's giving up the garden she's tended for 25 years.

"My first reaction to the statue was that it was a very obscene-looking thing to put in a playground and it was a very unseemly way of presenting a woman," she said.

After finding offerings - vegetables, mostly - placed in front of the pedestal, Landgraf concluded the statue is a religious symbol to some.

"This is more or less a grotto dedicated to the religion of naturalism," she said. "If this is religious, it shouldn't have been provided with city funds."

The statue, created by Fremont artist Steve Anderson, was paid for by garden members with the help of the city's Neighborhood Matching Fund. In all, the figure, plus improvements to a nearby picnic area and playground, cost $10,000, Macdonald said. The statue was the largest expenditure, he said.

Venus was the Roman goddess of love and beauty, but a sign on the altar reads "Dedicated to Gaia." Gaia, or Gaea, was a goddess in Greek mythology representing the all-consuming Earth mother. Gaea is sometimes invoked in Wiccan or other pagan ceremonies.

"Picardo Venus" isn't necessarily a religious symbol, Macdonald said. "Leaving the vegetables seems like something fun that people are doing."

Others think the statue is an unobjectionable - even tasteful - representation of fertility. Those who lobbied for the statue to stay plan to build a trellis over it and to plant jasmine around it.

Students at nearby University Preparatory school sometimes venture to the garden during art class but have not since the statue was installed. But Roger Bass, head of the school, said there would be no problem if they did.

"Just like there would be no objection to seeing any other pieces of art," he said.

Margaret Gottlieb's house is next to the P-Patch, and though she gave up her plot for reasons unrelated to the sculpture, she still walks through the garden on weekends. "I'm very fond of the garden goddess," she said. "I think she's beautiful."

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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