Bertoia at Woodmere
A sculpture renewed
Bill Valerio, Director of the Woodmere Art Museum, and I had our first conversation about five years ago. I had discovered that the monumental fountain sculpture from the Philadelphia Civic Center was hidden in a police warehouse awaiting a new location.
It had been stored there since 1999 when the Civic Center was torn down. Bill and I, along with Margot Berg of the City, had many following discussions regarding how to transfer the sculpture to Woodmere. Many letters, conversations, meetings, and funding events later, the 14' four-ton sculpture found its new home on the Woodmere grounds. Getting out of my rental car and viewing the curvaceous sculpture in its fortuitous location for the first time brought tears to my eyes. The sculpture found home again.
The Saturday afternoon presentation attracted a healthy-sized crowd of Bertoia fans. When I asked how many people in the audience had a Bertoia in their home, about half put their hands up! Compared to other audiences around the world, that is extraordinary. It makes sense, of course, because the Philadelphia area was Harry's stomping ground and the Mangel Gallery sold a lot of sculptures in their day. Ben and Debbie Mangel, elderly but spunky, were present and proud.
We told the history of the "Free Interpretation of Plant Form" sculpture through images and stories, but the best part were the tales that the audience had to share. One gal had so badly wanted a Bertoia sculpture back in the 1980s that she bought a tonal on time, paying monthly fees as she could. The Fruili faction of Philly, descended from Italy in the same locale where Harry grew up, clamored around to get pictures taken. Those who had received the gift of a barn concert with Harry told of their awe and magic in hearing the Sonambient sculptures played by their creator.
While there were numerous familiar faces in the crowd, I made many new friends that day. I'm always astonished at the positive heartfelt response that Harry's works bring.
As we viewed the accompanying exhibition of monotypes and sculptures, the Mangels reminisced about first meeting Harry and how humble he was. How at one of their gallery shows, Harry came to the city to socialize, but couldn't handle the overflowing admiration and adulation and had to escape out the back door! Later a couple from Texas got wind that there was a Bertoia show and offered their maquette up for loan, and then flew all the way out to Pennsylvania for the event! I recalled how my high school buddies and I used to frolic about the Sonambient Barn playing all the sculptures at top volume when Harry wasn't there!
It was a wonderful event all around.