What a relief!

Worth Waring of Sculpture in the South is seen last year near a bas-relief sculpture by Willard Hirsch. The sculpture outside the old National Guard Armory went 'missing' last week. It is being returned to Summerville by soldiers who originally had wanted

SUMMERVILLE — Betty Settle liked to drive by the old National Guard Armory and dream how it may become the town's first real arts center. She'd admire the historic Hirsch sculpture on the brick wall.

Until last week, when it vanished.

"I just saw there was a big hole, just a big hole in the wall," said Settle, the town's Art, Business and Civic Coalition president. The sculpture -- a kitchen table-sized bas-relief, a gargantuan concrete carving like a huge painting -- was just gone. Nobody in town knew where.

"It was there a week ago. I saw it," said Worth Waring, of Sculpture in the South, who knew Hirsch and had championed the value of the piece.

The sculpture was the frontispiece to the old armory on North Hickory Street, which the S.C. National Guard is turning over to the town. The late Willard Hirsch was a 20th-century Charleston sculptor who may be best known for the little dancing figure at the children's water fountain in White Point Garden.

The Summerville relief is a portrait of a screaming eagle and soldiers from the country's wars. It's one of several set into the walls in regional National Guard armories when they were built a half-century ago. Taking the cumbersome piece would have been no easy feat.

But an army managed.

Soldiers from the local armory re-appropriated it, wanting to hang it in the new armory, said Col. Pete Brooks, S.C. Army National Guard public affairs director. As of Monday, it was being boxed to be returned to the town, he said. The town likely will keep it boxed while renovating the old armory, said Councilman Bob Jackson.

Waring had to laugh when he heard. Hirsch, who was cantankerous and fiercely possessive of his work, had a notorious run-in with the city of Charleston when the angel, which had fallen into neglect, inexplicably vanished from White Point Garden. It turned out Hirsch had taken it, to do the upkeep work himself before returning it. Abashed city officials have kept it up ever since.

"I think Willard would have had a great time with this (disappearance). He was the sort who would have gone and gotten it back himself," Waring said.