WORKS OF ART BY THEME
The themes in Mr. Hebald’s work have varied throughout his nearly nine decades of sculpting in bronze, terracotta, wood, and marble. His predominant themes were the following: Lovers and Couples, Figurative and Female Figurative, Families and Groups and in the Neo-Classical tradition of sculpting, Greek and Roman myths as well as Literary and Biblical stories.
Lovers and Couples
In these works, Mr. Hebald explores the tenderness and sexual elements of love and affection. He intertwines his couples and lovers through their legs and arms, often using one or more of these limbs as entrance points to where the passion begins and opens up to a blossom of tenderness and love. He infuses the same technique into all of his lovers without distinction of the medium.
His woods start from the base in a twisted energetic motion and untwist in the middle with the heads or faces rejoining in a kiss or cheek to cheek, or foreheads touching. Often they arise out of the organic feel of the wood or move with the grain of the wood he was using. In his large wood Lugotevere, the man and woman stand in a close embrace with drapery hugging their bodies as they nestle closely entwined in their love. Their watches symbolize the passage of time and the shortness of time we have with those we love.
In his bronze works, couples are entangled or touching usually at the hips, knees, or laying between each other enraptured by each one’s gaze. But they are also embracing with their arms passionately wrapped like a blanket around each other encircling the love between them. In instances of pieces like Two In The Wind or Storm, the lovers are attached at the torso up through the shoulders protecting one another against the oncoming storm or wind which they meet bravely together. In the case of Feast, the couple stare into one another’s faces sharing a bowl between them in a private moment captured by this one shared object. In Under the Apple Tree the figures’ hold onto each other as they look with hope and joy, into the wind as it swirls around their bodies protecting them. Their drapery clinging to their bodies as the wind flows through and encompassing them.
Mr. Hebald’s couples and lovers conceptualized in terracotta were more common in his later years of 1990s and throughout the 2000s. His figurative couples that are not involved in topics of erotic sex, often were depicted in traditional Etruscan poses, in acrobatic acts, or of Biblical themes, such as Eva and Adam Under the Tree. If they did not conform to one of those themes, they were in erotic poses and acts. Throughout his life, Hebald found working in terracotta allowed more flexibility and malleable figures to be created in the themes of lovers and couples.
Hebald only carved one marble piece of a couple: First Love. In this piece he beautifully channels Antonio Canova in the delicate beauty of first love. The soft colors of the marble emanated the warmth of the love between the figures.
Families and Groups
Even as early as the 1940s Mr. Hebald incorporated family dynamic into his work. In the bas relief Elements in a Life Study, Hebald depicts the woes of life of a family during the Depression. In Children at Play, Hebald creates a circle of children in which they joyfully play ball with each other in which the family dog is also engaged. Hebald’s most iconic and popular family group is a large bronze piece called Dancing Family or Mitzvah Dance. This larger than life-size piece shows a family, joyously dancing in a circle with their hands and arms all linked. All five figures are caught up in dancing as the mother and her daughters’ hair move in the direction of the circle, the brother looks to his younger sister on his right, to make sure she is having fun. The figures look lovingly upon each other in celebration of the occasion. This sculpture was not only beloved by Mr. Hebald’s grandchildren, they used it as a jungle gym, but because it is a depiction of happiness and family celebration. The movement of the figures and the flowing drapery on all the figures follow in the traditions of the Renaissance and Baroque sculpture as well as it being the distinguishing feature of nearly all of Hebald’s work. There is very little that is still in this piece, all figures are moving with feet up arms in waves going from largest to smallest figures. Because this piece defines nearly all of Hebald’s work it is also the sculpture that is most visible public work he has created and it can be found in Washington, DC, Trevignano, Rome, and Naples, FL and other locations.
Figurative and Female Figurative Work
“There is a genuine spirit in the way Hebald conceives a swing band or a dancer and the conception is carried out in fresh, sculptural terms” (Getlein, Frank. Milton Hebald. A Studio Book. The Viking Press. New York. 1971). These works seemed to have flowed from his surroundings of Rome and through his fingers to the clay or wood. Hebald’s major influences comes from Canova and Bernini; he was entranced by Canova’s nearly life-sized marble of the semi-recumbent Pauline Buonaparte Borghese portrayed as Venus. Her translucent drapery alluding to her nude body below strongly influenced the way Hebald portrayed all of his figures whether male or female. This particular influence is found in Hebald’s bronze Paolina and in Far Niente, which he created in wood, bronze, and terracotta. There are few works where the drapery flowing around and off the human figure are absent. In Raccolta/Harvest, the beauty of the piece is in the marvelous swinging lines. The rhythm of the mother’s body movement showing through her dress that also shows the complex curves of the sculpture. The curves of the overhead branch is reversed in the curve of the child’s leg. The curve of the mother’s dress and hem of her skirt that cling to her body also follow the curvature of her outreached arms towards her child. Hebald celebrates the beauty of swinging lines and drapery. In Homage to the Baroque there are no major lines of separation, there are no upward thrusts with repeating curvatures in both the movement and drapery as in Raccolta/Harvest. But in Homage to the Baroque, the lines and natural folds of drapery are like falling curves of water. The fabric swoops softly across her belly and breasts in large repeating inversed arches.
Woman With Drapery II is one of the best known examples of Hebald’s mastery of the Baroque period’s fascination with drapery and repeating elegant lines in fabric. This piece incorporates not just the fullness of the figure’s fabric, but her hair is integrated as part of the full movement fully encircling her body without distinguishing between her hair and drapery.
However, not all of Hebald’s figurative work was ensconced in drapery and flowing illusions of fabric. Handstand, Melancholy Baby, Five Foot Two, Molly Seated are nude figures that celebrate the human body in its musculature, motions or emotions, folds, and curves that have fascinated sculptors and artists for centuries. In Handstand, Hebald not only created a figure that is in motion, but allows us to see how the muscles work whilst in such movement. The figure is static but does not look like it is; instead it looks like the male figure will complete the full motion of this acrobatic. This is true of most of Hebald’s work. In Melancholy Baby, the figure sits on a stool, head in hand and a face of extreme sadness, she exudes her mood as if you could hear her sighing deeply and if you were to wait, you would hear another sigh or see the roll of a tear down her face.
Many of Hebald’s work give the illusion of motion. Whether the figure is being acrobatic, dancing, standing in the wind, either the figure is “moving” or some other force, such as wind, water, or tree roots are creating the sensation of movement while the figure is engaged with that movement. Even Hebald’s bas reliefs figures at P.S.86 (Queens, NY) and Peaceable Kingdom (United Nations Children’s School) have a sense of the figures being engaged in some activity showing movement.
Myths and Literary Figures
As with any sculptor or artist from the Renaissance or Baroque periods, myths or Biblical themes have always been a part of their work. Because the Vatican was the main patron of many of the world’s greatest Western art, the commissioned work was always premised on Biblical allegories, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa or Michelangelo Buonarroti’s The Pieta. Commissions by the Medici or other merchant families often depicted Greek or Roman myths such as the Tomb of Lorenzo di Medici, Duke of Urbino, Dusk and Dawn or Antonio Canova’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa. Mr. Hebald also followed in the great tradition of sculptors who came before him. In a series of fountains Hebald sought to capture the myths of Neptune, the Sirens and Mermaids, as well as a nod to the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Of his grouped figures The Three Graces pays homage to the myth of the beautiful young girls who stand together. Each figure is gracefully woven together between their arms and legs and their flowing hair is linked together by the wind. It is not unlike Antonio Canova’s The Three Graces whose marble bodies fuse together and are draped in soft cloth.
Many of the great works of art are also taken from literature; Rodin created many works based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. As a budding artist Mr. Hebald, like Delacroix, illustrated what he read as a young boy. He was influence by Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, James Joyce and many others. However, what captured Hebald’s work the most were the writings of James Joyce, in particular Ulysses. From his passion of his reading Ulysses, Hebald created a group of figures based on the characters and events in the story. Hebald was drawn in by Ulysses because it had a similar construction of verse and telling of the story as in the Odyssey. The allusions to the Zodiac and Greek characters such as Prometheus, the word play, puns, and syntax all drove Hebald to translate Joyce’s work into sculpture. He recreated and brought to life Joyce’s characters such as Penelope/Molly in Molly Seated as well as Calypso (aka Bloom and his Cat), Prometheus, Circe and Cyclops. Additionally, in his ultimate homage to Joyce, he was commissioned by the Joyce family to create a life-sized statue to commemorate James Joyce’s grave in Zurich, Switzerland.
Likewise, Hebald’s love of Shakespeare is evoked in two of Central Park’s most iconic statues: Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest. Both of these pieces stand taller than life-size outside the Delacourt Theater. The Tempest with the wind blowing through him as if he is commanding events in the park. Romeo and Juliet stand tall and closed off from those who may peer into their love, impassioned by their last kiss.
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