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Bartleby the Scrivener vegan27
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the james e miller turtles
You might already know how much I love those ubiquitous playground turtles, and that owning one is one of my few unfulfilled life goals. (I do not have a lot of life goals.) They are still produced and available for purchase, but they cost $1096. I can't justify that expense right now.

When Sarah and I were having lunch with her mother and godmother on Mother's Day, this subject came up. One of them mentioned "an Italian man on Mound Road" who creates concrete sculptures and might be able to replicate one for cheaper.

That evening Sarah and I walked to a park in Birmingham and sat on a bench right next to one of these turtles. We got into what I'll call a spirited debate about whether it would be worth having a local artist attempt to make one. She believes that an artist could take a couple of measurements and a few photos and cheaply produce a sculpture every bit as good as an authentic one. I disagree--the real turtles are perfect, and in order to make one worth having, the expense of creating a perfect mold of an existing turtle would end up costing more than the real thing, and yet be a knockoff. I tried to compare it to paying an artist to make an imitation Van Gogh, if the Van Gogh weighed 750 pounds and was a big deal to commission and install. Sarah insisted that it wouldn't be that hard to make an indistinguishable knockoff. I wouldn't call it an argument, but our voices were raised just enough that I was worried about others in the park overhearing an impassioned debate about playground equipment.

I remembered having looked up information about the original sculptor before, but I looked him up again last night. American sculptor James Everett Miller / Jim Miller-Melberg designed in the turtle around 1959 while teaching at the University of Michigan. He hyphenates his name because his grandfather changed it from Melberg to Miller after immigrating to America, and the hyphenation is intended to honor his ancestors.

I looked up his website and I couldn't believe that I never knew that he is alive and well in Birmingham, Michigan. Sarah and I could have just walked to his house to solve our argument! Even worse, that was the day of the Birmingham art fair, which we missed, and where he may have had artwork on display!

Miller-Melberg was born in Minnesota in 1929 and his parents moved to Detroit soon afterward. The family is listed in the 1930 census on Agnes Street near Crane Street. His father was a pattern maker and started his own business in 1931. Miller-Melberg founded Form, Inc. in 1960 in part to sell the recreational sculptures he was producing. According to an article about the artist, the company was sold in 1981 to Wausau Tile Co. in Wisconsin, which still sells the turtles and other sculptures by him. (However, Form, Inc. is still an active Michigan corporation with annual reports filed by Miller-Melberg himself.)

In an interview, the artist said, "I attempted to bring sculpture to public life through sculptures for playgrounds and street furniture." I think that the prevalence of his works indicate his success in fulfilling his goal. What more could an artist hope for than the perfect union of beauty and function? I especially love sleek and stylized artifacts of the mid-century modern period and the feelings of new-world optimism that they evoke. I feel like I'm looking back into a past which was full of hope from a future that was not what was intended.

I love this post!! I remember these turtles, and the tunnel/tube like thing in the second advertisement I distinctly remember being at Rochester Municipal Park when I was small.