Lucille Ball Sculptor on New Polka-Dotted Statue: "I Just Hope Everyone's Pleased"

Carolyn Palmer Lucy Ball-Publicity-H 2016
Courtesy of Carolyn Palmer

Carolyn Palmer is anxious to see what the public's reaction will be to the statue she's created to replace "Scary Lucy."

There's a new Lucy in town.

Lucille Ball's hometown of Celoron, N.Y., is welcoming a brand-new bronze statue of the actress on Saturday, Aug. 6, and sculptor Carolyn Palmer is anxiously anticipating how her statue will be received.

"I've lived and breathed every second of Lucy for the last nine months," Palmer tells The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the unveiling on Saturday, which would have been Ball's 105th birthday. Palmer's work is replacing a previous statue, which was nicknamed "Scary Lucy" and frightened residents so much they petitioned to have it removed.

Palmer's version of Ball stands proudly on her Hollywood star, clad in a polka-dot dress, pearls and heels with her hair curly and coiffed. The sculptor says the statue is 7 feet tall in its entirety. She says she contemplated making the statue even taller, but she "didn't want [Ball] so unaccessible to the public."

"Lucy loved people and people loved her," Palmer says of the star, adding there's a spot next to the statue where people can step up and take photos with her. 

"She's glamorous," Palmer says, describing her vision of Ball.

After the critical reception the last Lucille Ball statue received, Palmer is definitely feeling the pressure to satisfy the public. "I know that there's a lot of people waiting for this," Palmer says. "I'm very anxious."

Palmer, who was selected from a national competition of 65 sculptors, says she hasn't spoken to the sculptor of the "Scary Lucy" statue, Dave Poulin, but that she has sympathy for him. Poulin himself referred to the statue as his "most unsettling sculpture." The current plan is to relocate "Scary Lucy" to a different part of Lucille Ball Memorial Park.

"I'm a thin-skinned person and artists are sensitive, and I do feel bad for that other fellow," Palmer says, referring to Poulin. "I find that the world was a little harsh on him." She adds, "That's the biggest nightmare in the world for anybody."

When asked what nickname she would choose for her statue, Palmer stops and considers her answer carefully. "Lucy in the sky with pearls."

However, Palmer's mailman had another nickname in mind when he delivered a package to her door and saw the sculpture. Palmer recalls him walking up and proclaiming, "Oh, my God, it's lovable Lucy!"

"Some people say it's a lovable Lucy, but that's up to the public to decide for them, if she's lovable," the artist says. In the middle of Ball's Hollywood star plaque on her sculpture, Palmer has a heart in place of the typical camera icon. Palmer says she's already been getting a positive reaction from those who've taken a peek at the new statue, including a few Celoron residents who saw it when the statue was being installed. However, she's eager to see what the masses will say about her version of the beloved star.

In creating the bronze statue, Palmer hired models that were Ball's height — 5'7" — and bought retro swing dresses and a red wig. In addition to using the models as a creative tool, Palmer stood in front of the mirror and practiced different stances she thought the Ball sculpture could emulate. Palmer also watched multiple episodes of I Love Lucy, including one in which Lucy is a sculptor and puts clay all over her face.

The most painstaking process was creating the polka dots. She made all of the polka dots by hand, rolling out clay and pressing a cap into it, then putting the results in the freezer. Palmer worked first with clay, then wax, then eventually the bronze for her final product.

Some of her loved ones told her to skip the polka dots, but she was intent on making it work. "I really think the polka dots made her more interesting, and I like them a lot," Palmer says.

"I loved working on this one," Palmer says. "Lucy was very liberating for me." Her last sculpture was of Pope Francis and she says she enjoyed going from a "rather serious" sculpture to a playful one. She adds that she has "empty-nest syndrome" now that her latest statue has left her home.

"I just hope everyone's pleased," Palmer says.