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Penelope Jencks 1984
Last summer I was invited to submit a proposal to the City of Toledo for a sculpture to go in Promenade Park. Whenever I do a piece for a specific site, I like to visit the site frequently and feel my way into the idea that the site itself suggests.
I was rather apprehensive upon learning that this site did not yet even exist and worried that I would not be able to pick up any “vibes” from the place. Luckily I was able to hit upon another source for my inspiration. Due to my intense dislike of flying, I made the transition from Boston to Toledo gradually, by train. One thing I became vaguely aware of as I was traveling was the large number of families and people who were en route to visit relatives or returning from seeing relatives. It didn’t really register until I got off at the train station, where I was struck by the fact that so far as I could see, I was the only one who was not either part of a family or being met by a family. I found it very moving, at nine o’clock in the morning, that there were all these people so happy to see each other. The place seemed to be filled with a great hubbub of aunts, uncles, parents and children. It’s quite a different sight at South Station in Boston at 9AM, nothing but commuters – young men and women wearing black track shoes and carrying brief cases.
Anyhow, this experience gave me the impetus I needed. When I was finally picked up by the Arts Commission I was already thinking of the Toledo Family as a possible topic for Promenade Park. It wasn’t exactly inspired by Promenade Park, which didn’t exist, but really by what I felt as I first experienced Toledo. The more I heard about the layout of the park, with its access to the river and its proximity to the portside shopping area, the more excited I became about the idea of incorporating that experience into the park itself.
It well may be that the family in Toledo is no more viable than it is on the East Coast, but my initial and perhaps naïve impression was of its strength and enthusiasm. As a mother and an artist I felt it was a subject I would like to celebrate.
It seemed to me that the best way to portray the family was to make it lifesize and accessible. I wanted the sculpture to work in such a way as to blend with the environment, so that my bronze family could mingle with Toledo’s live families. I wanted my family to use the park the way a real family would. So that as live people used the park they would become part of the sculpture, just as the sculpture would become part of the environment.
I arranged the figures in such a way as to be able to consider them both as separate pieces and as a connected group of individuals. The father holds the baby who is gesturing happily towards the mother. The mother is coming down the steps holding a pair out to the child. Although there is quite a distance between these figures, the gesture and expressions keep the connection strong. Near the father a slightly older child stoops to examine a bottle cap on the ground. This Child is totally engrossed in his action, and in that sense is some what independent from the family, but his physical proximity shows his total unquestioning acceptance of his dependence. The teenage daughter is another kettle of fish altogether. The father watches her, aware of her increasing independence, as symbolized by the actual distance. She has turned her back on the family altogether and gazes out over the river, into the world that is outside the family, secure in her knowledge that if she turns around they will still be there.
In the end, it is a family that could belong anywhere, but which has been inspired by my observation of Toledo and my experiences as a daughter, mother, wife and artist.
Perhaps best known for her monumental sculpture of Eleanor Roosevelt, Penelope Jencks has been a professional sculptor for over thirty years. Having studied under several mentors during her career, Penelope has perfected her own unique style. She has created numerous works in terra cotta and bronze, however, currently she spends much of her time living in Italy, where she has her works carved in stone. She is presently working in Italy on a commissioned stone monument of Robert Frost, which will be placed at Amherst College in 2007.
Penelope is a member of the National Academy of Design and the Royal British Society of Sculptors. She is also a Fellow of the National Sculpture Society. Her works can be found in private and public collections worldwide. Some of her notable public collections and commissions include: The White House (Washington, D.C.); The Maggie Cancer Care Center (Edinburgh, Scotland); the Readers Digest Corporate Headquarters (Pleasantville, NY); the Boston Public Library (Boston, MA); the Bibliotecca di Pietrasanta (Italy); the City of New York, NY; the City of Toledo, OH; the Cape Museum of Fine Arts (Dennis, MA); the National Academy of Design (New York, NY); Amherst College (Amherst, MA); and Brandeis University (Waltham, MA).
*biography courtesy of Sculptureworks, Inc, webiste www.gobronze.org
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