Editor’s Note: EvAngelos Frudakis and his daughter Jennifer Frudakis are renowned sculptors living and working next door to each other in a loft building in Port Richmond. The 90 year old EvAngelos has just been awarded this year’s prestigious Medal of Honor–for lifetime achievement–by the National Sculpture Society to be presented this Saturday in Loveland, Colorado. Theresa Stigale visited the artists to learn about their work and to find out how why they chose Philadelphia for their home and studio.
Theresa Stigale: With only one winner each year–since 1929–this award sounds like a pretty big deal, like the Academy Award for sculptors! What was your reaction when you received the call?
EvAngelos Frudakis: I was very pleased, the past winners were the absolute tops in the field, and I am in very good company. I appreciate that this award was given in recognition of my overall career, for both my lifetime body of work and my service to the industry as a teacher.
TS: You were born in the West. How did you end up in Philadelphia?
AF: I was born in Utah in 1921 and my parents immigrated here from Greece, the island of Crete. I was raised in New York and started my art education there. I won a scholarship to the PAFA, (the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) in 1941 but was drafted into the WW II. I served for two years in Europe then returned here to finish my scholarship. I moved to Rome with my first wife, Virginia Parker, in 1950 after winning the Prix de Rome for sculpture. Virginia is Jennifer’s mother and a very talented fine art painter.
TS:What was it like teaching sculpture in New York?
EF:It was wonderful to teach at the National Academy of Design, it’s the second oldest art school in the country (PAFA is the oldest). I was considered the premier teacher of sculpture in NYC at the time and my class size was limited, I could only take on so many students at once. Back in those days, the kids used to line up overnight to get one of the spaces in my class. Eventually things changed, I took some good advice, and came to Philadelphia to open my own school in 1975. For 18 years I directed the school and taught.
TS: Can you remember a moment in your life that ignited your passion for art?
EF: I am one of six children and when we were very young, my mother would bake bread and give each of us a slice with sugar on top as a treat. While my siblings were eating, I was kneading. I would go under the table and use the bread to make figures, little animal sculptures. She would say (in Greek) that I would become a sculptor. In kindergarten I had my first contact with plastoline, an oil-based clay, and became known as the class artist. I carried that identity with me throughout my school years.
TS: What are some of your sculptures in or around Philadelphia?
EF: In 1964, I sculpted a bronze bust of President John F. Kennedy that is installed in Atlantic City, across from the Convention Center. In 1980, my sculpture, “The Signer,” was installed in Independence National Historic Park. I chose to portray one of the younger signers, George Clymer, a merchant and statesman, who was a double signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This work is important because it reminds us everyday that these signers challenged the system that was in place, and literally gambled their lives on one noble idea, to be free.
TS: How do you like having your home and studio in the same building complex?
EV: I really enjoy it here. My studio is in the adjacent building to my loft and is connected through a series of interior walkways and I spend a lot of time there.
TS: Do you feel satisfied with your life’s work thus far?
EF: Yes, I’m an artist without any discontent. I find integrity and beauty in my work. I always sought the rhythms of life to create objects of pleasure, with good form and composition. The empty areas, or negative spaces, are as important to the piece as the forms themselves. They are initially simple to comprehend, yet profound in their own way. I do feel that I have had the American dream realized.
TS: You’re still going, however.
EF: I still feel the challenge to create. I would love to have a final masterpiece and see my sculpture of Daedalus and Icarus enlarged in a significant new place. It’s now installed outside the library in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s meaningful to me because there’s a noble idea behind the work in this Greek myth, where the son, Icarus, flies to close to the sun and dies. It’s a story of the spirit of mankind.
TS: Gerd, you are an artist in your own right. What is your background and what do you enjoy working on?
Gerd Frudakis: I studied in New York at the Fashion Institute of Technology and also the National Academy of Design, where we met. I am a jewelry designer and sculptor and am attracted to nature forms. I work in clay for bronze castings and do sculptures on a small scale to incorporate into jewelry pieces.
TS: Jennifer, living in a family of artists has had a lot of influence on you.
Jennifer Frudakis: Yes. My brother Anthony is also a sculptor and we both grew up under the influence of our artist parents. They saw life through the filter of an artist and it affected us in a positive way, in how we all functioned as a family. All of our family activities were entrenched in art: spending time in their studio, observing them as they worked, going to museums, it’s part of who I am. It was a natural progression for me to choose to become an artist. My brother lives in Michigan and works on historical figures and did a sculpture of Rosa Parks, which is installed in Flint.
TS: Sounds like sculpture runs in the family!
JF: It really does, my Uncle Zenos, my father’s younger brother, is a also figurative sculptor and has done many public works on a monumental scale, in Philadelphia and throughout the world. The Freedom sculpture outside the SKG building at 16th & Vine is one of the most well-known in this area, along with the Frank Rizzo sculpture at the MSB building across from city hall. I really enjoy working with him and his business partner Rosalie Frudakis, who is president of his company, Frudakis Studios.
TS: Where can we see some of your work in Philadelphia?
JF: I created the life size tiger sculpture for Holy Family University in the northeast, the tiger is their mascot. Governor Rendell was at the unveiling ceremony and that was great.
TS: You like having your studio in your living space.
JF: I really love it here, the loft is amazing! It’s wonderful to have my studio right here, it helps me to focus on my art. There’s so much creative energy in the loft compared to a traditional home with a lot of smaller separate rooms. The open space, ceiling height and light make all the difference to my art.
TS: You often combine media.
JF: I really love to combine oil painting and sculpture together. One of my favorite pieces is an oil painting of a tree with a sculptural relief. I love nature and like to incorporate environmental images into my work, to see my work displayed in a park setting or beautiful garden is very rewarding. I also teach at the Wayne Art Center and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. I work on the art and nature programs and also the environmental programs for kids.
TS: Do you have any advice for the next generation of artists?
JF: Yes! I would recommend that if they are serious about an art career, that they get a masters degree and also study business. It’s really important to have a broader understanding of the business side of art world. With that type of background and a lot of talent, all doors will open to them.