On a walk from my house to the campus of Dorothea Dix hospital in Raleigh N.C. a couple of weeks ago, I discovered this group of painted plywood figures erected in the wide open spaces of the central lawn.
It was an almost perfect replication of Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grand Jatte” (below). A couple of the people in Seurat’s composition are missing to the right of the foreground couple, and the spacing between that couple and the figures on their left could have been better, I think. But the organization of the figures matched Seurat’s remarkably well.
I would have loved to know why they were there. It was a little eerie—all those figures, so artfully arranged, but with no explanation as to why. I took a photo with my iPhone and continued my walk. A few days after I made the photograph the figures were gone.
I’ve looked at my photograph quite a bit since then. Someone had taken great care to carve the figures to match Seurat’s composition, to paint them very carefully and to space them almost exactly. You don’t just do that for fun. Perhaps they had been made as a background for an outdoor theater presentation of Sondheim’s “A Sunday in the Park with Georges.” Perhaps a dance troupe could have danced through the figures. After the performance, the pieces were left to be picked up later. I’m sure it was something like that.
I could probably discover what they were doing there with a phone call or two, but I’m not sure I want to know. I like the mystery of it. Here today, gone the next, my photo the only evidence of its existence. There are a lot of possible explanations, including, of course, space aliens. They always seem to represent the best explanation for things that are hard to understand.
If I had a truck and made a few trips, I could have picked up the whole bunch of figures myself, although I’m not sure what I would have done with all the pieces. Maybe I’d keep the couple on the right, put them out in our garden. Maybe the little girl running. But I really didn’t think of doing that, although someone else might have. An eccentric drug king with a yen for Sondheim, for example, stole the pieces and had them reassembled at a large estate in another country. I think that’s pretty unlikely, but you never know.