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Public Art Field Guide: Spielschiff

The art your kids can play on.

Tired of snooty art museums with too many signs that say "Do Not Touch!" as if you're some hyper six-year-old whose only way of properly appreciating something is by rubbing his or her snot-covered hands all over it?

If so, come visit "Spielschiff." It is the art that you can not only touch, but run, jump, climb and play on. Or, if you feel like acting your age, for once, and absorbing the art from afar, then bring along a real six-year old and let him or her do the art-touching.

Spielschiff is a piece of interactive public art located at Maury Park, directly adjacent to the Arlington Arts Center in Virginia Square, at 3550 Wilson Blvd. Installed in 2007, and crafted by German sculptor Bonifatius Stirnberg, "Spieldschiff" is the epitome of "public art." Erected not simply for the enjoyment of art aficionados, but for the use of everyday pedestrians - and especially for the joyful play of energetic little children.

The name "Spielschiff" is the German word for "play ship," which describes the sculpture exactly. It's a whimsical play ship, something out of a Dr. Seuss book, with cartoonish dimensions and fantastical gadgetry, including a multicoloured propeller and two kaleidoscopes (which, really, every ship should be outfitted with).

Mr. Stirnberg keeps his studio in Aachen, Germany, but has been commissioned for works all across the world. Stirnberg originally trained as a carpenter, but eventually forged (pun intended) his skills as a metal-worker, and now produces beautiful bronze statues on a regular basis.

Mr. Stirnberg has created over 100 sculptors and statues since he began working with metal in the 1970s. While not all of Stirnberg's works are as interactive as Speilschiff, they do all possess the sort of magical, story-book qualities that define the play ship's aesthetics.

This sculpture is truly a gift to the residents of Arlington: a piece of art that can inspire adults in its imaginative forms and colors, and piece of art that can put a smile of children's faces.

This might just be the most enjoyable piece of public art in Arlington. Until next time, happy public art viewing.

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