'Seaflower' – New Bedford, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura

New Bedford, Massachusetts

'Seaflower'

The sea urchin sculpture is an unusual commemoration of a New England town's seafaring history. 

New Bedford, Massachusetts, has long been nicknamed the “whaling capital of the world.” So when Texas artist James Surls installed a sculpture in front of the New Bedford Federal Building in 1978, it seemed obvious that the artwork should represent the animal most associated with the town’s history.

But Surls decided to create a different creature to honor New Bedfrord’s seafaring past: a sea urchin. Immediately after its installation, “Seaflower” faced backlash, and not just because of its $9,000 price tag (over $35,000 in 2019 dollars).

The elderly and the blind kept whacking their heads on the sculpture, necessitating the addition of a beam. A newspaper survey revealed that 86 percent of respondents hated it.

The polarizing sculpture has been in danger of removal multiple times. In 1986, Mayor John Bullard tried to remove it. In 1999, Surls agreed to have it moved to make room for a Korean War veterans memorial, which never materialized. Finally, in 2001, $40,000 went to the restoration of the abstract piece and it seems poised to stick around, much like a sea urchin stuck to the bottom of your foot.

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