Review of In The Grand Tradition: The Enduring Art of Elbert Weinberg | Leonardo/ISAST

Review of In The Grand Tradition: The Enduring Art of Elbert Weinberg

In The Grand Tradition: The Enduring Art of Elbert Weinberg
Nancy Finlay, Editor

Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut, 2018
76 pp. illus. 60 b&w and colour.
Paper, $25.00
ISBN: 9780819578099.

Reviewed by: 
Robert Maddox-Harle
November 2018

This delightful book about both, Weinberg the man and his work, brings to light something we have almost completely lost in our manic 21st century madness, a sense of the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”. This sense of ‘awe’ pervades Weinberg’s work and is poignantly conveyed throughout this book.

In The Grand Tradition is edited and compiled by Nancy Finlay of the Hartford History Center at the Hartford Public Library. Like Elbert she was also born in Hartford, Connecticut––this connection to place and Hartford’s support of cultural concerns highlights just how important this kind of civic support is for our society. I feel privileged to be able to imbibe the greatness of Weinberg’s prolific creative output, both sculpture and drawing, through this beautifully produced book.

Richly illustrated in both colour and black & white, the book includes photos of Weinberg’s finished sculptures (both in situ and in the gallery), archival images of the sculptor in his studio, and scans of his masterful drawings from the thousands left for public perusal in his sketch books.

As I savoured every page of this book, I kept asking myself, “Why isn’t this astonishing artist better known globally?” I do not know the answer! I do however know that his work is equal to (or better) than many of the more celebrated, well known sculptors such as Brancusi, Calder or Moore!

The book has a Foreword by Brenda J. Miller; A short piece, “A Personal Reminiscence” by Peter Bochenek; and three chapters followed by a good Reference list.

Chapter One––The Two Sides of The Moral Universe: Tradition and Meaning in the Work of Elbert Weinberg Chapter Two––No Graven Images: Weinberg’s Judaic Sculptures Chapter Three––Wrestling With the Angel: A Brief Biography of Elbert Weinberg

Chapter One starts with Weinberg’s own words:

“My themes have been of basic ingredients of our human condition, of myth and history. Sculpture is not the medium for frivolity. We’re talking guts and character.” (p. 1)

Weinberg was not endeared to purely abstract sculpture and despaired of the abandonment of figurative sculpture in the latter half of the twentieth century. He died in 1991, tragically young at age sixty-three. He left many unfinished sculptures in his studio at the time of his death. “One of his plaster models, an eight-foot high nude woman officially known as Demeter in Her Garden now welcomes visitors to the Hartford Public Library’s Center for Contemporary Culture” (p. 50)

“Today abstraction is no longer the dominant style that it was in the late twentieth century. Figurative and realistic art has emerged as a valid alternative, just as Weinberg hoped all along that it would” (p. 50). There will always of course be styles that become “flavour of the month;” the extreme proponents of such style pronounce everything that has gone before as passé and dead! However, the world is now a very small place, with a huge population that seems is magnanimous enough to accommodate all styles. I doubt if figurative, and abstract figurative sculpture will ever disappear––thankfully.

The Hartford History Center houses cultural collections that reflect community life in Hartford from 1630 to the present. The Elbert Weinberg Trust donated (in 2013) a large collection of Weinberg’s creative output including, sculptures, drawings, manuscripts, prints and photographs that form the basis of this book (p. 57).

In The Grand Tradition, apart from being an important historical record of Weinberg’s work, gives us a glimpse into the life and psyche of this brilliant artist. Thoroughly recommended for all artists, art students, educators, historians, and lovers of fine art, generally.