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You've met 'Shark Girl'; prepare to meet 'Flat Man'

A 3,000-pound man with a heart-shaped hole in his chest will soon greet visitors to the Outer Harbor and boaters on Lake Erie.

"Flat Man," a 30-foot metal statue by the late sculptor Larry Griffis Jr. that has long been a favorite of visitors to Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, will be re-installed along the Outer Harbor's Greenway Nature Trail in early September.

The five-year loan of the sculpture to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is part of an effort to bring more public art to the waterfront beyond the two popular sculptures, Jaume Plensa's "Silent Poets" and Casey Riordan Millard's "Shark Girl," that are currently drawing crowds at Canalside.

The 1963 piece has proved a social media hit at the sculpture park, where visitors have often tried to capture the moon or the setting sun floating in the middle of its heart-shaped cutout. Nila Griffis, director of the Ashford Hollow Foundation and granddaughter of the sculptor, said she hopes that its relocation will bring a flood of smart-phone-wielding photographers to the Outer Harbor.

A map from the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation shows where Larry Griffis' "Flat Man" sculpture will be installed on the Outer Harbor.

"You can see it is a fan favorite just from the amount of images. People always capture the heart," Griffis said. "We're hoping to capitalize on some of those images at the Outer Harbor as well."

"Flat Man," a 1963 sculpture by Larry Griffis, is being relocated to the Outer Harbor.

The sculpture, a kind of humanesque lighthouse, will stand at the edge of the lake and will be visible to those driving along Route 5, pedestrians in the park and boaters.

"It really stands out as a beacon and I'm confident that it'll drawn people," said  Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo. "We're confident that just like 'Shark Girl,' we're going to be seeing a lot of selfies with 'Flat Man' all over social media."

Griffis' towering sculpture was created as part of a series originally installed at the Kissing Bridge ski resort in the early 1960s and later relocated to Griffis' eponymous sculpture park on 450 acres of rural land in Cattaraugus County. The other sculptures in the series remain at the park, a popular destination for local lovers of nature and art.

Larry Griffis Jr. poses at his Essex Stree Studio in 1999 with a sculpture he created for the Lewiston Public Library.

The construction of "Flat Man," Nila Griffis said, used a unique welding method her grandfather developed to achieve his singular style.

"He developed this process where there are several rods of steel that he folds over to create an armature and the form of the sculpture itself," she said. "When you come closer to them and see the time and effort and planning, it's a really, really special piece."

Beyond Griffis' technical achievement, the piece also sends an important message about inclusivity.

"That was always really a part of the 'Flat Man' design and execution," she said. "His arms are almost in a welcoming stance. He's just wearing his heart right on his chest."


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