Hartford Public Library is now home to four Elbert Weinberg original sculptures – and by no mere coincidence. These works pepper our Main Floor, perhaps the most prominent being an exuberant 13-foot-tall plaster sculpture of a woman whose only clothing is a hat of fruit, or perhaps the tender “Julia,” a bronze bust of Weinberg’s daughter welcoming guests into the main lobby. Housing the statues here at HPL may even be called a homecoming of sorts. Why?

The sculptor, a Hartford native and the top graduate in Weaver High School’s Class of 1946, became internationally known and collected for his works which explored subjects as diverse as: the suffering of the Holocaust, politics, mythology, and the joy in human nature. Weinberg’s sculptures grace museums – including next door at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art – as well as public installations throughout the United States and Europe.

Now, documents of his fruitful but too-short life have come home to HPL’s Hartford History Center, along with four remarkable sculptures. This extraordinary gift from the Elbert Weinberg Trust offers a window into the working life of a successful artist. Weinberg’s sketchbooks, photographs of all his sculptures, personal correspondence, and even his address books – filled with the names of art-world luminaries and East Coast foundries – are all part of the gift, which fills many boxes and is undergoing cataloguing and archival preservation.

John Portman, the American architect who is often credited with introducing the atrium to contemporary hotel design, and who commissioned a major sculpture from the artist for a hotel in San Fransisco, once said of Weinberg, “Elbert [had] a unique way of giving life to form, where the piece carries with it an aura that’s very special.”

The sculptor, who received the Prix de Rome twice, a Guggenheim Fellowship, many awards, and exhibited his work widely during his lifetime, also taught at Yale University, Dartmouth, and Boston University. Before his death in 1991 from a rare disease of the bone marrow, Weinberg had a studio workshop in Hartford’s Colt building. Many of his sculptures are still in a repository in Hartford.
From his youth until the end of his life, Weinberg was known for his forthright spirit and his big, booming laugh. His friends loved his candor and his refusal to play the art-world’s in-crowd games. “He never made an effort to be flashy or stay in vogue,” wrote Patricia Weiss in The Hartford Courant’s Sunday magazine Northeast.

“He had a great wit,” said Harold Lindenthal, who met Elbert twenty-five years ago at a Passover Seder and is now the head of the Elbert Weinberg Trust. “He was prolific in many directions – and he worked in wood, marble, terra cotta, bronze. He worked out his sadness and his happiness in his sculpture.”

Lindenthal and Joel Karp, who founded the Trust, describe an artist who was exuberant, original, great company, and protean in his output.

“He was an exceptional person,” Karp said. “He was a treat to be around. His work combined both engineering and aesthetics.”

To learn more about the art and life of Elbert Weinberg, please see www.elbertweinberg.com and connecticuthistory.org/breaking-the-mold-tradition-and-innovation-in-the-work-of-elbert-weinberg/

 

“Julia”

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“Julia” is a tender portrait in bronze of Elbert Weinberg’s daughter Julia, when she was age three. Situated at the Downtown library entrance, the sculpture faces the main desk. Joel Karp, who was a great friend and supporter of Elbert’s, said the sculpture was made when the sculptor was living in Rome, having won the prestigious Prix de Rome, a prize awarded by the French government for artists’ study in Europe.

 

“The Warrior”

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Elbert Weinberg’s abstract sculpture in metal and marble suggests the figure of a warrior with a spear and shield. It can be viewed on the Downtown library’s main floor, adjacent to the door into the café from the library. Joel Karp, who established the Elbert Weinberg Trust, said that the artist worked in many mediums, and explored many different ideas. “He was a sculptor’s sculptor,” Karp said.

 

“The Bride”

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Elbert Weinberg’s metal sculpture is one of a series of works which he created with the title of “The Bride.” Joel Karp, who was Elbert’s friend, said the artist was fascinated with women and their many roles. When Elbert was an emerging artist, he was photographed for an article in Life magazine with a wooden sculpture from this series.

 

 

“Demeter”

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A plaster representation of a sculpture the artist may have intended to later cast in bronze. Joel Karp, who founded the Elbert Weinberg Trust, and Harold Lindenthal, who is now the head of the Trust, said that the model for the statue was one of Elbert’s graduate students at Boston University. Karp sees a Picasso-like influence in the elongated limbs of the sculpture.

For thousands of years, sculptors have sought to capture the human form in its most elemental state: as a nude. Renaissance artist Michelangelo said the foot was more noble than the shoe, and the skin more beautiful than the garment covering it. Over the centuries, many reasons have been offered for artists’ fascination with the nude figure. The nude figure, it has been suggested, offers a chance at unconcealed honesty.