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Library mystery is a bust

The mysterious sculpture of a woman was left

The mysterious sculpture of a woman was left on a fountain at the construction site of the children's wing of the East Hampton Public Library. Details of items contained in the Long Island History Collection at the East Hampton Public Library. (May 16, 2013) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

East Hampton's library director has a mystery on his hands, one too big to put on a shelf.

It's a head -- more precisely a bust of a woman -- mounted on a large piece of slate, Dennis Fabiszak said. The piece, which is cracking from age, was left behind the library building where a new children's wing is being built.

Someone apparently carried the bust from the library parking lot to the construction site, he said, and carefully placed it so the eyes seemed to look out on the project. Fabiszak estimates that the black-painted terra cotta bust weighs more than 50 pounds, and he believes two people likely moved it between the time the library closed on May 4 and when it was first noticed by library employees the next afternoon.

"It stirred up a lot of local interest when it was found," he said.

There are clues to the bust's origin, he said. An inscription on it reads: My Wife Forever Della Penna.

And it's hollow in back, as if the piece were meant to be in a garden where birds could nest inside, Fabiszak speculated.

He said he reported the discovery to village police last month, but no one had come forward about a theft of anything like the bust. He checked public records, asked around town and found that according to them, no one named Della Penna has lived in East Hampton for more than 20 years, he said.

"It's very strange. I asked my staff, and the library board, and the museum director at Guild Hall," Fabiszak said. He even contacted a woman who runs an auction house in Manhattan to see if any of her appraisers had an idea who the artist might be, to no avail. "Everybody local has come in and looked at it . . . it's so strange."

Hugh King, the East Hampton town crier who regularly appears at town and village board meetings to discuss local history, could cast no light on who might have created the bust or owned it.

"I have no idea," he said.

The library has no long-term plans for the bust, which has not been appraised. But Fabiszak hopes if an owner is found, at least the mystery would be solved.

"We left it where we found it," Fabiszak said. "Maybe it got taken from a home [owned] by someone who is only a summer resident and they haven't come out yet -- they haven't noticed it's missing."

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