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

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05/17/2011 2:15 PM |

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.



183 Comment

  • It was an honor for me to have met Mr. Berks and his Wife, he had a great sense of humor
    God Bless

  • My aunt , Catherine Mandile Deane , studied with Mr. Berks in the late 1940’s .

  • Discovered this sad to hear news while trying to recall the name of the Lane the Berks home is on in Orient. I was a childhood friend of Bob and Tod’s youngest child, Alexandra, and many were the afternoons we spent romping around their intriguing house, occasionally darting over to the studio, (my old and very brief schoolhouse) to see what her father was working on. I vividly recall marveling at the busts of JFK in various sizes, and the sculpture of Rosa Parks which loomed high above we little creatures of curiosity. Bob had constructed what I referred to as the “wooden man” on the property between his studio and the house. It was an imposing figure constructed of wooden vegetable crates or lobster pots. The wooden man stood 12-14 ft in height and seemed to hold dominion over east and west. After being politely dismissed from the studio, Alex and I would rush back to the house to catch the latest episode of “Dark Shadows.” Their home was absolutely fascinating in every conceivable aspect, as were its occupants. There, was the first place I’d seen a steam bath chamber. It was an intimidating apparatus; a large canvassed elongated cubicle with a long zipper running north and south along the slanted canvass. It was through the Berks family I discovered the Avant Garde whether it was in what to eat, what to wear, what to listen to, or how to think. Tod, Alex, Victoria, and the older sister I never met, my thoughts are with you. Thank you for the memories. Rest in peace great one ~