Venice High School's famous statue of Myrna Loy, depicting the goddess Venus rising from the sea, has been enclosed in a protective iron cage as part of a last-ditch attempt to save the sculpture from an unending assault by vandals.
The imposing cage, with three heavy duty locks, was built around the Loy statue and two other figures to prevent another attack such as the one that occurred in February, when vandals scaled a well-lit fence and battered all three heads. It was the 12th attack by vandals in a decade.
William Van Orden, a 66-year-old Venice artist who has meticulously restored the statues each time they were vandalized, doesn't like the idea of putting art in a cage, but there is little choice, he said.
"It's the imprisonment of Myrna," he said. "Something is wrong with society when we find ourselves locking up our art to preserve it. We used to only put criminals behind bars; now we live behind bars. The statue is a symbol of the school, and you know, the bars are a symbol to what we have become."
Since March, Van Orden has returned to the statues every day to work on restoring the three damaged heads, a job he vows to complete before he runs out of time. He said he suffers from cancer and his doctors say he does not have long to live.
Donated by Producers
Van Orden has received an outpouring of support and national attention since a recent Times story about his efforts to preserve the statues.
The $1,500 for the cage was donated by New York producers of a planned musical based on the light-hearted mystery film "The Thin Man," in which Loy gained fame playing opposite William Powell.
Over the years, the school has tried numerous measures to discourage vandals. The sculptor changed the design of the statues to strengthen the arms and heads. A fence was erected around the statues and floodlights were installed. A fake TV camera was even mounted above the school entrance and directed at the statues.
"It's a sign of the times," said Principal Andrea Natker in explaining the decision to order the cage. She said the cage is the only permanent solution the school can afford to make. "We have to do what we can to protect the art," she said.
The 7-foot-tall statue of Loy was originally sculpted in the 1920s by Harry Winebrenner, a nationally known sculptor who also taught art at Venice High School. Myrna Williams, a 16-year-old student who later gained fame in films as Myrna Loy, and two other students posed for the statues.
Natker and Van Orden say the restoration should be complete by the end of the school year in June. Already, replacement heads have been attached to the two figures at the base of the Loy statue. Van Orden said a platform must be constructed before he can to replace the Loy head.
Every day the restoration attracts a curious crowd of students and other onlookers, who encourage the ailing artist.
"It's pretty sad to have to cage Myrna like that," said Greg Aalberts a 19-year-old Venice High graduate who returned to the school recently to see how the statues were coming along. "I know it's probably the only way to protect it, but it's still pretty sad."
Sarah Rice, a 15-year-old student, said: "It looks like a prison, but if it keeps them from being destroyed, it's probably a good idea."