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One evening not long ago, Scott Jacobson was about to get in the shower when he heard a noise outside his front door.
Turned out, it was a 300-pound concrete statue of a very large, very white woman wearing a brightly painted lei.
Along with his role as the current executive director of Valley Leadership, Jacobson is a past chair of both the Phoenix Arts Commission and Arizonans for Cultural Development. So this is a guy who knows art. And he knew instantly, when he saw Ruth on his lawn, that she was, well, not his taste.
Ditto for Sam Campana, another local art aficionado. That's why she rounded up nine friends and relatives on the night of January 16 to transport Ruth from the backyard of her Scottsdale home to Jacobson's front yard in Phoenix.
It's the ultimate lawn gnome prank, the kind of thing high school kids amuse themselves with. But these folks aren't in high school, they're our community leaders. And this is a gnome that could do some serious damage to the winter rye.
Campana calls it "drive-by statuing." The former mayor of Scottsdale, who now runs Audubon Arizona, spent years as executive director of Arizonans for Cultural Development. She has a fine contemporary art collection. When she bought a new home last year, the owners asked her to look after the sculpture they had dubbed Ruth, a more-than-life-size lady residing in the garden. Always the politician, Campana won't offer her exact opinion of Ruth's aesthetics, but simply says that the statute looked uncomfortable after she'd relandscaped, switching from pines and junipers to xeriscape.
So on a Friday night, Campana rounded up an industrial dolly and her daughter, Cassidy, to make the move. Jacobson, in the middle of remodeling his house and a practical jokester himself, seemed a natural recipient. Campana called ahead, and, when Jacobson didn't answer, proceeded to Phoenix. Turned out she needed 10 people and two vehicles to accomplish the task.
Janie Ellis, the maven of Cattle Track, an arts colony in Scottsdale, never even saw Ruth that night, describing the drop as a "cloak and darkness routine." She received a call from her old friend Campana, telling Ellis she was on her way to pick her up. "She said, 'Hey, we're driving by with Ruth in the truck, come along,'" Ellis recalls. So she did.
But Jacobson was, in fact, home when Campana and her entourage arrived. He opened the door and looked out into the cold darkness, and saw a clump of people. When they saw him, he heard someone yell, "Oh -- Christmas carols!" And six people broke into four different carols.
Jacobson suspected something was up. After all, it was the middle of January. And he's Jewish.
"We started with 'Deck the Halls' and ended with 'Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,'" Ellis recalls.
Jacobson shooed the group away, confused but late for an engagement, took his shower and rushed out of the house. He got home at 1 a.m. and turned on the light as he pulled up to the house.
There was Ruth.
"It scared the hell out of me," he says.
And there Ruth sat, for many days, because Jacobson couldn't figure out how to move her. During that time, several neighbors inquired cluelessly about his new art purchase -- much to Jacobson's chagrin. Other neighbors draped her naked breasts in blue fabric. When it rained, Campana brought her a Nicole Miller umbrella.
The clothing was also not Jacobson's taste. He sees Ruth as "more Laura Ashley. But she's no-classical, so she could really do a toga number."
Then one night, when some friends brought votive candles to set at her feet, Ruth was gone. Shortly after, Campana received a note. New Times has obtained a copy:
"Ruth is moaning to you, Sam. . . . What's the Amber Alert color for very white 300 lbs adults?
"public art advocate anonymous."
Contacted last week, Jacobson was mysterious when asked about Ruth's exact whereabouts. "I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say. . . . But I can tell you this: She's within my boundaries."
Perhaps not for long. Again, Jacobson is cryptic, saying only, "I think her karma is elsewhere."
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