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WORLD FOCUS: The story of Frog Baby

February 21, 2013
FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

"Stuff Happens," said Donald Rumsfeld, famously. Serving as U. S. Secretary of Defense at that time, Rumsfeld was referring to the looting of Iraq's art treasures in the wake of the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. "It is part of the price of liberating Iraq," he said.

When objects of art are in play, "stuff" happens. Occasionally it happens in a positive way. This was the case when the College of William & Mary became the recipient of a cornucopia of art treasures from an unlikely source.

Rixey Smith, a member of an old Virginia family, who was a 1915 graduate of the College of William and Mary, on a whim decided to revisit his alma mater. He brought along two of his closest friends, Patrick Hayes and Ralph Wark.

"People at the college were extremely nice and friendly to us," Hayes recalled years, later. "So we just kept coming back to Williamsburg."

As a result, after the death of Smith, Hayes and Wark became active supporters of the Swem Library, the Muscarelle Museum of Art, the Reves Center for International Studies, the Writer's Festival, and various arts programs.

The bond between Smith, Hayes and Wark was a shared passion for collecting art. Their interest ranged from early Meissen and Chinese porcelain to rare books and manuscripts. Together and separately they have often followed the scent of a rare collector's item, not resting until it became part of their collection.

They donated a host of important items to the Swem rare book collection, among them 600 volumes of 18th century books with fore-edged paintings. The Muscarelle Museum became the recipient of many pieces of Chinese porcelain, paintings and other objects of art. In Wark's name, Hayes established an endowed professorship in the Department of Fine Arts.

My most vivid memory about Hayes' cornucopia of gifts to the college is the story of the "Frog Baby."

Sculpted by Edith Barretto Stevens Parsons in 1937, the "Frog Baby" a 4-foot-high bronze figure of a joyous little girl playfully holding a frog in each hand, symbolizes hope and joy. She has a smiling face, looking up at the sky.

Frank Ball, an industrialist bought the first bronze cast and donated it to the Ball State University. It is said, students facing final exams used to make a pilgrimage to the statue, to rub the little girl's nose for good luck.

Hayes, who bought an early cast's at an auction, was looking for a permanent home for the statue. During one of his visits to the college, I escorted him to the newly established Reves Center for International Studies and pointed out that the sunroom adjoining the elegantly-furnished reception room, would be a perfect place to display the valuable statue.

A bit of research revealed that the "Frog Baby" was designed to be the centerpiece of a fountain. Thus, Hayes volunteered to pay for the construction of such a fountain. On special occasions, flower petals are thrown into the pool surrounding the statue. Potted plants are bordering the fountain.

During his visits to the college, Hayes always stopped at the Reves Center to view the Frog Baby.

"Seeing it at such a place, just makes me feel good," he used to say. This feeling was incorporated into his last will. He stipulated that his estate should provide funds to support the annual Writer's Festival that dates back to 1977. Without his support, the Festival would have been cancelled. It is now called the Patrick Hayes Writer's Festival.

While alive, each time Hayes visited William & Mary, he enriched life here. Some on the campus believe his gift, the "Frog Baby," has a mysterious quality.

There is a message in this story that Lake Placid, often called the winter sports capital of the United States, could learn from. Its sport venues, visited by millions, could serve as repositories of unique artwork.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.



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