By ALAN SMASON, Special to the CCJN
A life-sized bronze sculpture of the most well-known of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, teenager Anne Frank, and a special bench bearing a quote from her was unveiled this morning at Founders Plaza of the National World War II Museum. The outdoor unveiling followed indoor dedication ceremonies at which dignitaries and museum personnel spoke.
The sculpture, begun approximately a year ago, is the second of a series of four separate commissions contracted by the museum and realized by StudioEIS, a highly-regarded New York sculpture firm. The first of these projects was a similar bench dedicated two years ago bearing the figure of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the mall area located just off Andrew Higgins Boulevard.
Unlike the seated figure of Roosevelt, the bronze statue of Frank depicts her standing in front of her bench while bravely holding onto a representation of her famous diary with both hands against her breast. It was made possible by a generous donation from the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust.
In a phone interview with the CCJN, Ivan Schwartz, the sculptor and visual artist who runs StudioEIS with his siblings Elliot and Debra Schwartz, said that there are many reasons why this sculpture is different than all of the others he has executed previously of historic figures and famous sports legends.
For starters, this one is personal and resonates more.
The son of Russian Jewish emigres whose father landed on Omaha Beach a week after the initial assault, Schwartz said this is the first victim his studio has rendered and the first famous Jew.
“It’s the first one in 43 years, so it was obviously important to me,” Schwartz confided. “The studio has made more important historical sculptures than any studio in American history. As you might imagine, we’ve done lots of George Washingtons, Lincolns, James Madisons and football players – and all kinds of people – but this is the first sculpture that was made (where) the significance, the identification of life and death, had everything to do with the fact that she was Jewish. There’s no denying this.”
The project first began with a live model and actress who had appeared on the New York stage as Anne Frank. An adult of diminutive size, she wore a dress evocative of the period and was photographed from multiple angles approximately 500 times.
Historic pictures of Frank furnished by the museum in New Orleans and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam were utilized to inform the artistic process. The face of the figure was eventually crafted out of clay, painstakingly measured so as to be three percent larger than real life.
“We’re basically creating a sculpture from photographs, which are two-dimensional,” Schwartz explained. “We’re making a three-dimensional object, so, ideally what you want are photos that show the individual in the round. If you only have a picture of a person’s face – you know a frontal view – it’s very hard to establish the depth of things.”
“We’re basically creating a sculpture from photographs, which are two-dimensional.” – Ivan Schwartz
Schwartz noted they had the benefit of a number of photographs taken of Frank on the same day from different angles, which aided their ability to be more accurate.
“The photographs were very similar, but she moved,” Schwartz continued. “She went from a profile to a full frontal image. That helped us enormously.”
Throughout this initial process, museum officials and studio artists weighed in on every aspect of what the rendering should look like via teleconferences and emails.
“That decision making takes place long before we ever touch the clay,” he continued. “What is she meant to be doing and what do we want to convey in the making of this sculpture?”
There were many questions which needed answers in these important discussions, he added. For instance, how tall was she? How old was she to be depicted? The studio staff wondered aloud if there were any previously unseen pictures of their subject.
In true collaborative fashion, the museum and the studio determined the pose she would strike and her attitude.
“The attitude of Roosevelt as a wartime president is just very, very different than the young Anne Frank,” Schwartz pointed out.
The other thing about this commission that is different from other historic figures or presidents, he added, is that Frank is “a young innocent who died prematurely and in the worst possible circumstances.”
As a proud American and a Baby Boomer, Schwartz reflected on the importance of the commission and its significance to him. “The overriding thing about Anne Frank is that she continues to remind us of the extent to which evil and innocence dwell within the same place at any moment,” he began. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s certainly one of the great paradoxes in the history of the world.”
The sculpture has two aspects to be considered, he said. “The development of this sculpture has to succeed in representing her innocence, which also ironically reminds us of the horror that surrounded her life.”
Following a month of discussions for art direction, Schwartz and his staff worked for four months to fashion and finish the model in clay. After the museum staff okayed the project, there was a period of three weeks of carefully casting the clay figure. When that process was finished, the casting was sent to a foundry where the figure was fashioned over another four-month period.
Then the work was shipped to New Orleans and installed on site. “The Anne Frank sculpture took about a year,” Schwartz considered. “We can do it slightly in less than a year, but a year is a reasonable time.”
No announcement of the cost has been made, but museum officials commenting on the cost of the previous F.D.R. commission had estimated it as having cost “upwards of $100,000.” But the cost of the project is not the only factor important to Schwartz.
“If the sculpture captures her at a moment in time and an attitude that informs the idea of innocence stolen, then I think we have succeeded,” Schwartz mused. “I think the sculpture is very, very good.”
Born six years after the end of World War II, Schwartz acknowledged how fortunate he feels to have been raised in a country that afforded his family protection and the freedom to practice their faith. He believe this factored into the manifestation of the final rendering.
“Only as I get older do I appreciate the significance and understand really how close I was in terms of being born right after the war and what that really meant, the world that I grew up in, and how it was changing and evolving after the end of the war,” Schwartz reflected.
He describes his upbringing as that of an assimilated Jew. “I’m not what you would call an observant Jew, but I’ve become much more aware that we are living once again in a time of rising anti-Semitism in America and around the world.”
Both his parents spoke Yiddish and his father read The Forward, Schwartz recalled. They were supportive of the State of Israel and encouraged him to become a Bar Mitzvah. “They would have responded very, very positively,” he mused about the commission. “They would have been doubly proud.”
But he also views the Anne Frank dedication as a cautionary tale. “I find living now it’s difficult to define the extent of the precipice, but it’s becoming clear to me that it would not be hard to see conflict once again in the world at a scale larger than regional wars,” he warned.
While he knows there will be more than a fair share of selfies being taken with the sculpture, Schwartz said he was curious as to how the public will react and respond to the work.
“We’re certainly living in a time when anti-Semitism has now reared its ugliness again once again here in New York and I’m sure all over the the country,” he concluded. “My hope is that she evokes or creates that kind of evocation and contemplation about the world in which we live. She clearly was a victim of another time that couldn’t have been worse.”
The Anne Frank Sculpture Bench was dedicated on September 12, 2019, in ceremonies at BB’s Stage Door Canteen at the National World War II Museum, 945 Magazine Street. The unveiling will followed on Founders Plaza.