What started as something to keep busy during the COVID-19 quarantine turned into a labor of love for Palm Beach gallery owner Deborah C. Pollack when she decided to research and write Florida Sculptors and Their Work: 1880-2020.
Bored with watching YouTube videos and cutting her husband’s hair, Pollack spent two years researching, writing and contacting the artists’ estates and another year collaborating with Schiffer Publishing.
The book’s foreword is written by Laurel M. Lee, chief cultural officer and secretary of the state of Florida. “From the Manatee Dance at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee to Ann Weaver Norton’s ‘Seven Beings’ in West Palm Beach, there is sculpture to be enjoyed throughout the state,” Lee writes.
An art historian who has owned a gallery with her husband, Edward, on Worth Avenue for 25 years (edward and Deborah Pollack Fine Art), Deborah Pollack has a special interest in Florida-based artists, but realized there was a lack in the literature about Florida sculptors.
“When I realized there are books about Florida painters and other Florida artists, but not a comprehensive book about Florida sculptors, I knew somebody had to do it,” Pollack says. “I wanted to remedy the dearth of literature on the subject and to create a tribute to these diverse artists who had enchanted, amused, saddened or outraged us.”
“Some of the sculptors in this book have created mystery or controversy, but most have captured the essence of Florida and have been inspired by Florida, including its nature, history, architecture and have left behind a love letter to the state,” she says. Conversely, after being inspired by Florida and its natural beauty, sculptors such as Doris Leeper, Robert Rauschenberg and John Chamberlain worked to highlight the fragile nature of Florida’s ecosystem and became champions of the environment.
The sculptures tell the story of towns, cities, war and peace, tribulation and triumph, people and events and Florida’s history, culture and natural beauty, Lee writes in the foreword.
Pollack also highlights public art – such as Ralfonso’s Reflections, a kinetic sculpture in Boynton Beach, or Jane Manus’s Bristol, in front of the Bristol Condominium in West Palm Beach – and says many people pass by public art each day but may not know anything about it or even who created it.
“Although we look at art, including public art, sometimes we don’t really see it,” Pollack says. “We have to learn how to view these works of art.”
“Walk around it, study it, see what inspired it,” she says. “My purpose is to share the stories of these creative people and reveal the secrets behind their three-dimensional art.”
Pollack has also made some discoveries in her research.
One of her favorite sculptors, Italian-born Leo Lentelli, came to the U.S. in 1903 at the age of 24, and in 1926 was invited by The Breakers’ architects Schultze & Weaver to design the Florentine fountain water nymphs for the entryway. That led to further commissions, including one for the Boca Raton Resort & Club in 1929.
Pollack discovered in her research that the sculpture, which had been called The Slave Girl, had been wrongly attributed to Miami stonecutter Ettore Pellagatta, and was really Lentelli’s portrayal of Salome, daughter of King Herod.
Salome still stands today at the club, now called The Boca Raton, with the head of John the Baptist at her feet. Lentelli’s Faun, a half-man half-goat mythological figure is also still standing at The Boca Raton’s main gateway, and had also been wrongly attributed to Pellagatta.
Pollack studied Lentelli’s papers in the Archives of American Art and believes she is the first person to document that these works of art have been mistitled ad misattributed.
“It’s 100 percent proven in my book,” she says.
Pollack also highlights the work of Leno Lazzari, another Italian-born sculptor with a connection to Boca Raton. Lazzari made his mark in Palm Beach County, and his works were exhibited in Jacksonville, at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach and in Miami Beach.
Tragically, after settling in Boca Raton in 1945, he and his wife were murdered three years later in their home. Pollack says this mystery is still unsolved.
Making their mark on West Palm Beach were husband-and-wife sculptors José de Creeft and Lorrie Goulet. Born in Spain, de Creeft came to the U.S. in 1929. His bronze sculpture, Alice in Wonderland, stands in New York’s Central Park.
While teaching at the Norton Gallery and School of Art, one of his students was Ann Weaver Norton, whose eponymous sculpture garden still bears her name. Another one of his students at the Norton was Jane Botsford Armstrong, a New York artist who wintered in Delray Beach.
A writer, painter and singer, she said in 1964, “I never felt I was a whole person until I started sculpture.” Believing there were figures trapped in stone waiting to be set free, she sometimes heard “an animal crying out.”
Pollack writes: “As she chiseled and polished, the figure of a simplified animal emerged from the natural shape of the stone.”
Goulet, Norton and Armstrong were all directly influenced by de Creeft’s direct carving technique, where the sculptor works with hammer and chisel directly on a block of stone or wood.
Pollack also covers contemporary, living Florida artists including many in our local area such as Yaacov Heller, whose Flossy’s Fountain, from 2001, stands in front of the Count de Hoernle Amphitheater in Mizner Park, Jeff Whyman of Delray Beach and Luis Montoya and Leslie Ortiz, sculpting partners in West Palm Beach known for their lost wax techniques of casting.
Best-Known for their hyper-realist oversized fruits, vegetables and shells as well as whimsical figures of women, Montoya and Ortiz also designed the Muse Award for the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County. Their sculpture, Las Palmas, was installed at the Palm Beach International Airport in 1994.
Currently, their work is on display at the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden through June 30.
Other sculptors among the 80-plus mentioned in the book, which is categorized by geographic region, are Susie Phipps Cochran, Itzhik Asher, Duane Hansen, Robert St. Croix, Jay Clinton Shepherd, Augusta Savage and Jonathan Stein.
Florida Sculptors and Their Work: 1880-2020, by Deborah C. Pollack; Schiffer Publishing; 184 pages, $65