Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eulogy For A Mentor: Sir Laszlo Ispanky

Sir Laszlo Ispanky, husband, father, friend, mentor, artist. Born 1919 in Budapest, Hungary. He was the youngest of 10 children, served in the Hungarian Army, was a POW in Siberia for 11 months and for all of that, had a wicked sense of humor. “Be good, or be bad, but just be careful.” he’d always say.
Laszlo came into my life through the great fortune of marrying a beautiful, young nurse, Susan Toft. In the ‘early years’, before marrying Laszlo, Suzie lived with my parents Rudy and Valeria Girandola and my four brothers and sister. To this day, we refer to her as Aunt Suzie. Laszlo had a great eye for beauty, which is what drew him to Aunt Suzie, but he was smart as well. As a nurse, always caring for people, Suzie gave such loving care to Laszlo right to his very last days. After Suze and Laszlo were married, they continued to come over on a regular basis, always with bags and bags of food, which was VERY welcome by our large family. Every year of our childhood we spent Christmas with Suzy and Laszlo and eventually, Jason, their son, who is really like a baby brother to us. They would give us gift after gift, making each of us feel so special, like my sister Chrissy, as her birthday was Christmas day, or Neal, Suszie’s godchild. For me, always amazing art books, tools, paints, easels and stretchers.
When I was fifteen, Laszlo purchased a painting from me. It was oil on canvas (both of which he had supplied). What I didn’t quite realize then, but thinking back now, was that around the same time he was adding a piece of mine to his ‘collection,’ President Gerald Ford was selecting pieces of his to give to heads of state around the world.
During Christmas, or other days, whenever we visited, I never missed a chance to make my way into his studio. Always in awe, I would look at books stacked floor to ceiling (20 foot ceilings), each and every one with pieces of paper slips stuck here and there making notations for a seemingly endless range of work. Works capturing early Americana, like “George Washington Kneeling in Prayer at Valley Forge,” or “Betsy Ross,” sewing the first American Flag or bold, visionary and powerful works like “Let There Be Light,” “Wind” and “Storm.” And of course, the greatest thrill I had was seeing those works in clay, not yet cast, knowing I was one of the first to see them. How little I realized one was destined for Anwar Sedat, or Princess Grace or Liberace. I didn’t quite grasp that this man provided the inspiration to those who inspired the world. What I knew, was he inspired me.
As I worked my way through school, Laszlo continued to give me boxes and boxes of paints. He even hired me to make some canvas for him. When I had a studio of my own, I would on occasion find him and Aunt Suzy just outside the studio window, peering in with smiles of encouragement on their faces.
Many years later, after Laszlo had fallen very ill and his memory was all but gone, I was called for the most significant commission of my life. I was asked to create a sculpture honoring firefighters who lost their lives saving others in the twin towers. My first stop was to Suzy and Laszlo’s house. Laszlo was sitting at the table being fed by nurse Suzy. I explained to him why I was there.
“You remember Lotsy,” aunt Suzie prompted, “the towers, the firefighters who died?”
“Yes.” he nodded. His eyes began to burn with passion as he shot out a series of questions. “How high up will it be?” I told him. “Indoor or out?” I told him. He stared me in the eye and gave me the most profound advice of my life.
“What you must do is make something that will make everyone go…” and Laszlo dropped his jaw in an expression of amazement. He was instructing me to make something amazing.
“Go in the studio and take anything you need.” Aunt Suzie chimed in. Laszlo nodded in agreement.
A few weeks later, I was told by Aunt Suzie that they’d visit my studio again, this time to see the sculpture in process. I worked through the night trying to get something more than just a drawing and wire finished. I put chunks and chunks of his clay onto the board, heating them in the oven so I could move faster. Finally, they arrived. Suzie brought his walker around and helped Laszlo out of his side of the car. Slowly he made his way over to the clay and was seated in a chair just in front. He smiled although he looked frail and tired as he began inspecting the piece. He lifted his head towards me and with a puzzled look pointed at the featureless clay that was waiting to be sculpted.
“Whose face goes here?” he asked me. I showed him the photograph of one of the men.
“Paulie,” I explained, realizing I had not impressed him in the least with the clay sitting there, amporphous. He gave me a look that takes about 90 years and a stay in a Siberian concentration camp to perfect.
“Well do it!” His eyes locked onto mine with all the ferocity of a college football coach. It was a power that projected straight through his eyes.
Feeling suddenly called to action, I grabbed his tools and began sculpting away at the clay that would be the face of Paulie, carving deep into where the eyes would go. Laszlo’s eyes lit up with approval and excitement. At a break, I asked him if he would touch his hand to Paulie’s outstretched (and as yet unsculpted) hand, so that Suzie could get a picture of us both. He looked down with an expression almost of disdain. I couldn’t quite make it out.
“Please,” I asked, “just for one second.”
He looked down again and touched his hand to the clay, then quickly pulled it away. I thought for sure I had now asked too much of this old man. I thought the clay was too cold and uncomfortable to his touch. He looked again at the unformed hand and then did something that took my breath away. This frail man reached down to his chair and lifted it, and turned it in one motion so that he was facing the sculpture square on. In the next moment, he grabbed the outstretched hand with both of his and began plying and changing the formless clay until it truly resembled a hand. His eyes darted about the floor.
“He’s looking for his tools.” Aunt Suzie explained.
I quickly grabbed one and thrust it into his hand. Laszlo reached towards the hand and began cutting the line in the palm, just above the thumb. This line, he had explained to me from my first waking moment as an artist, was the life line of a man or woman. It wrapped down around the thumb, cutting around the wrist. This man, with little left in his life, took his last energy and breathed it into my sculpture. Five minutes passed like an eternity. Finally, he dropped the tool and looked pleadingly at me.
“Will you ask Suzie to bring me home now?” and nodded in her direction. She came and collected him. As I watched him leave my studio, I understood his final lesson of art. This man, whose artwork circles the globe, embodied that energy we call ‘art.’ He didn’t possess it, it possessed him, and did what it would with him. He was a man who inspired those who inspired nations. Sir Laszlo Ispanky, husband, father, artist and mentor was a force of nature whom I had the honor of being inspired by.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

World Renowned Sculptor Laszlo Ispanky, 90, Dies

World renowned sculptor, Sir Laszlo Ispanky, 90, passed away Friday, July 9, 2010, at his family home in Hopewell, NJ. Born 1919 in Budapest, Hungary, he was the youngest of 10 children. Ispanky served in the Hungarian Army and was a POW in Siberia for 11 months. After release, he concentrated on his love of art, gaining fame in Hungary for his many sculptures. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Laszlo Ispanky escaped his homeland and emigrated to the United States.

Word of his arrival spread quickly in America. He was awarded a Fellowship to the Cranbook Academy of Art in Deerfield, Michigan to study and teach sculpting. Ispanky moved to New Jersey in early 1960 and became the Master Sculptor for Cybis Porcelains, creating many fine porcelain figurines as well as the 48 State Flower Bouquet seen at the World's Fair. In 1966 he started his own porcelain company with partner George Utley. In 1968 it became Ispanky Porcelains Ltd. and was located in Trenton, NJ until 1972 when he moved his growing company to Pennington, NJ.

Laszlo Ispanky, whose works have been selected by the US Government as special gifts to Heads of State, was often referred to as "The Living Master".

Ispanky was internationally renowned for his remarkable ability to duplicate an individual's exact likeness. This clearly becomes visible in his majestic sculpture of Pope John Paul II as well as many others. His prestigious pieces are in some of the finest collections in the world: The American Shakespeare Festival Theater and Academy; The Smithsonian Institute; The Museum of Modern Art, Peking, China; The Brooklyn Museum; The New Jersey State Museum; The Jerusalem Foundation; The President's Mansion, Mexico City; The Royal Palace, Stockholm, Sweden; The Rockefeller Collection; The New Jersey Governors Mansion, Princeton, New Jersey; The Liberace Museum of Las Vegas; The National Cathedral of Brazil; Buckingam Palace; The Vatican.

President Gerald Ford selected three of Ispanky's major pieces for presentation to Heads of State on his European trip as well as a presentation to Chairman Mao Tse-Tung of China.

During Pope John Paul II's visit to the United States his Holiness was presented with Ispanky's "Ten Commandments" which is now at the Pope's summer home in Castle Gandolfo.

In 1974 he created "Basketball Players" for the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. He was also commissioned by the Texas Rangers to create the sculpture honoring their 150th anniversary. His Fine Arts Medallion for the American Society of Medalists for the Spring '74 issue was struck in both bronze and silver.

His creations include the magnificent sculpture in bronze "Let There Be Light" which was commissioned by the Knights of Malta and presented to President of Egypt Anwar Sadat.

He sculpted the "Love Award" for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and his porcelain "George Washington Kneeling at Prayer at Valley Forge" was selected as the official commemorative by the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge.

His many prominent works of art include bronze busts of Senators, Congressmen and a former conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra, Toscanini's hands and the "Bull" that Lyndon B. Johnson presented to President Ordaz of Mexico as a Presidential Gift of State.

In January of 1975, Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco was presented with the Ispanky sculpture "King Lear and Cordelia", a piece which takes its theme from Shakespearian drama.

Ispanky's sculpture "Applause" is in the US Figure Skating Association's Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs and his "Coppelia" was presented to choreographer Agnes de Mille.

Each year Ispanky designed and contributed another of his "Angels of the World" series which were made by the mentally handicapped adults at the T&M Ranch in Florida and used as a fund-raising project by the Association for Retarded Citizens.

Laszlo Ispanky has also created large-scale monuments, fountains and building structures in Budapest and other major cities in Europe before escaping to freedom in America.

Sir Laszlo Ispanky was Knighted into the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) in 1977 in recognition of his contributions to art and culture. He was also Knighted into the Order of St. George by the Vatican.

Sir Laszlo Ispanky is survived by his beloved wife, Susan Toft Ispanky, and his son, Jason Toft Ispanky, both of Hopewell, NJ, a niece, Yoke Noordhoek, her husband, Dries, of Holland. He was a member of St. Alphonsus Church, Trenton Cyrus Lodge #5, Pennington, NJ, and The National Sculpture Society. He leaves a family of artists whom he mentored and inspired over the years. He loved them all.

"In addition to being an artist of uncommon strength and vision, Laszlo Ispanky was a giving friend and mentor. Throughout his life he provided me with paints, canvas, clay and inspiration. He gave me the courage to follow my dream."

Robert Girandola, Sculptor
9/11 Memorial, Engine 6, New York City

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Freedom Comes in Many Forms

Freedom comes in many forms. To some, it is the freedom from financial burden. For others, it is the freedom to say what’s on one’s mind. There is the freedom to act as one pleases, to worship god as they choose, or not at all if they like. For some precious few, those often referred to as “survivors”, it is the freedom to spend another beautiful evening barbecuing with your spouse and children and grandchildren.

Last July 3rd 2009 was the day my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll never forget the call, but I will say, it was different than what some might expect. “Robert,” she said, “I found out today that I have cancer.” straight and to the point and noticeably free of a common emotion, fear. Because of her voice, I felt a lifting in my heart, a lifting towards what one might call “freedom.” My grandmother had breast cancer, and my mother had lived so many years under the weight of the fear of it, the fear of this unknown force that may someday sweep into her life and take everything she cherishes from her. Yet, here was that day, and my mother, pre-chemo, pre-operation, pre-hair loss and sickness and pain, saw that previously unrealized fear, now in the full light of day, in its presence. She found herself suddenly free. “I am going to beat this, Robert, I have a lot of things left to do.” Again, her voice resonated with the power that only comes from a person who truly sees the smallness of fear.

Last night, on the beautiful evening of July 3rd 2010, a gentle breeze rolling across her beautiful back deck, with her grandchildren playing, my mother sat there looking radiant. The only evidence of the wretched pain that comes with “beating this” was her short white hair, which she no longer colored and which now looked more beautiful than it ever had. Amidst all the other chatter and comings and goings of her children and grandchildren she said with a smile, I’ve been given an “all clean” report. I am free. In that moment, I once again thought of how much of our lives can be wasted fearing what may never happen, or more importantly fearing something that has the potential to raise oneself to a higher awareness. I thought about the beauty of freedom and how very precious it is. What a beautiful way to celebrate July 4, 2010.

* Thank you to all the firefighters, police, military, and on this day doctors and nurses – to all those who dedicate their lives to protecting freedom and providing the opportunity for another day to love.

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