I sometimes get the feeling that I’ve written the same column before — it’s a combination of advanced age and the act of having penned about a thousand of these things since 1977 — and this is one such occasion.
With a twist: I did, in fact, pen the following column last year, and I’ve chosen to reprint it now because its subject, Orient sculptor Robert Berks, died this week at the age of 89.
So, then, as previously reported in the April 15, 2010, edition of The Suffolk Times:
When I think of people with big brains, our Orient neighbor, Bob Berks, inevitably comes to mind. I’m pretty sure he’s a member of the Mensa Society, the organization for those with off-the-charts IQs. To spend five minutes talking to him (or, more accurately, being talked to by him) at a cocktail party is to appreciate the fact that his intellect operates on a totally different, and higher, plane than the intellects of the rest of us.
And his brain isn’t the only thing that’s big about Bob. He’s also got huge talent, and qualifies as one of the premiere American sculptors of his generation. His monumental pieces of historical figures from JFK to Einstein to Mr. Rogers are at once humane and eminently accessible, and he has remained active and productive well into his ninth decade. (Bob celebrates his 88th birthday on April 26.)
Perhaps his most ambitious project called for installing 1,000 life-size, copper bison on a 370-acre parcel of land owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management near Lander, Wyoming. The project eventually was scrubbed due to environmental concerns. But if you require proof that I’m not making this up, just drive by Bob’s studio on Halyoke Avenue in Orient. There you will see, facing into the wind, just as Bob intended, a prototype of the buffalo he envisioned installing in the back country of west-central Wyoming. All that’s missing in the yard immediately east of his studio are the solitary bison’s 999 compatriots.
And if that particular artistic endeavor isn’t grand enough for you, Bob had a companion vision for the Wyoming project — placing the herd of a thousand bison within the outline of a line drawing of a buffalo carved into a field of grain by harvesting machines — and all on a scale large enough to be visible from outer space. (I kid you not.) Just further proof that Bob Berks thinks big. Very big.
And why have I chosen to write at this particular juncture about Bob Berks and his oversize intellect and talent? One obvious reason is Joyce Beckenstein’s profile of Bob that appears on Page 1A of today’s Suffolk Times. Another has to do with the fact that the month of April has special significance insofar as Bob’s relationship with another North Fork genius, Albert Einstein, is concerned. According to Tod Berks, Einstein first “sat” for Berks on April 18, 1953, and Berks’ statue of Einstein in Washington, D.C., was dedicated 15 years later, on April 20, 1978.
But there’s a third reason, and it has to do with the fact that Bob has “put away his clay,” in Tod’s words, to concentrate on putting in proper order the archives and innumerable documents of his life’s work. And, quite simply, I wanted to say something nice about the man while he’s still around to read it.
So, happy birthday and many thanks for the memories, neighbor.