Bob Berks, Orient artist who sculpted images of presidents and popes, dies at 89

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Bob Berks shown among some of the hundreds of images in his Orient studio in April 2010.

Bob Berks, who during a decades-long career sculpted iconic images of popes, presidents and other luminaries, died Monday after a long illness. The Orient resident was 89.

A prolific artist, he is perhaps best known for his eight-foot bronze bust of President John F. Kennedy, a symbol of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and another Washington monument, his 22-foot seated figure of Albert Einstein on the grounds of grounds of the National Academy of Sciences.

His body of work includes bronze portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt and entertainers including Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Bob’s goal in portraiture was to create a visual image of the people of our time to carry on to future generations,” Dorothy “Tod” Berks, his wife of 58 years said in an interview Tuesday. “It was a good life and I hope to carry on that legacy in a significant way.”

Mr. Berks was born on April 26, 1922, in Boston to artists who restored Early American arts and crafts. During his teens he studied at the Museum School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He later designed and built keels for wooden minesweepers at the Herreschoff Shipyards in Bristol, R.I. He returned to painting and sculpture after the war.

“Everything designed has a visual component,” he told The Suffolk Times in April 2010, “and art is the best way to do everything.”

During his years in Orient he worked in a former schoolhouse converted into a studio near his home.

Mr. Berks said that while former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, were in Orient sitting for their portraits, the one-time actor best known for his action movies quipped, “Bob, there’s one thing wrong with your work … you did too many Democrats.” Mr. Schwarzenegger, who married into the Kennedy family, then commissioned a bronze of Ronald Reagan for the Reagan Library.

In a more recent work, Mr. Berks designed an 11-foot, 7,000-pound memorial, dedicated in 2009 in Pittsburgh, of Fred Rogers of the PBS children’s show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Cremation was private. The family says donations may be made in Mr. Berks’ honor to the East End Arts Council or East End Hospice.