Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Lawn, So Grab a Papal Sprinkler and Let Us Spray

updated 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When the lawn is parched and the garden is dry, most people pray for rain. In the Detroit area, however, they can rely on papal intercession. Thanks to a pair of local designers, Robert Lebow, 34, and Peter Gahan, 24, water sprinklers in the likeness of Pope John Paul II have become the Motor City's fastest-moving collectibles. Made of half-inch plywood and hand painted with oil-based enamel, the $55 replicas of His Holiness stand 36 inches high and house a spray jet in each uplifted arm. "We mean no disrespect," says Gahan. "It's just like having a ceramic Madonna in the yard."

The sprinklers had their genesis two months ago, when Lebow and Gahan, both active in the Detroit arts scene, built two for their own amusement. "We never intended to make any others," says Lebow. "Then our friends saw them and begged for more." Friends of friends soon began requesting copies, and when nearly 100 orders came in one week, Lebow and Gahan knew they had a hot item. Two weeks ago they incorporated as The Fun Company and are now planning to market a series of Personality Sprinklers including Jim and Tammy Bakker, Liberace, Elvis and Moses. The latter model will be particularly spectacular, says Lebow. "We'll have spray coming like an aura from the commandment tablets. We might even do Marilyn Monroe with water coming from her shoes to blow her dress up."

Not all Detroiters count the sprinklers a blessing. An article about the holy waterers in a local paper prompted angry calls, and the Catholic Church finds them in dubious taste. "But we just have to live with it," says Jay Berman, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Detroit. "The Pope is in the same category as any well-known public figure. There's nothing we can do."

Lebow, who is Jewish, sees no disrespect involved and argues that "the natural beauty of a garden is the perfect place for the Pope. My mother loves the idea. She's ordered a Moses for her lawn." But Gahan's mother, Virginia, a Catholic, is less enthusiastic. "Why the Pope?" she moans. "Anything but the Pope. I put mine on the patio—I didn't want it on the lawn. I'd much rather have a cute white whale."

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