Art, says Fox Point sculptor Richard Edelman, is about telling stories.
Take, for example, the Double Helix, a two-ton, 17-foot tall stainless steel piece installed in April near the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the Givat Ram Campus of Hebrew University in the center of Jerusalem.
“The core narrative of the Double Helix is that the thing that we call DNA and the thing that we call life, they are really one thing,” he said in a recent interview. “We can’t talk about DNA without letters and we can’t be human without stories.”
He was commissioned to do the piece for the center, a spectacular modern building that in nearing completion. The idea for the sculpture, Edelman said, was to highlight both the research aspects of the center and its commitment to diversity.
“I chose the DNA double helix, the universal symbol of scientific research,” he said.
To reflect the diversity of the university, six letters – the initials of the university in English, Hebrew and Arabic – were placed on hexagons and pentagons along the core of the piece.
A group of about 20 attended the installation ceremony on April 26, the day after Edelman and his friend Tom Queoff, a fellow artist from Milwaukee, erected the sculpture that was shipped in a 20-foot crate by land and sea, a five week journey. Only a small group was invited to the unveiling, a cautionary move in case something might go amiss while it was being placed on its base.
A formal dedication of the Double Helix will be held at the university on June 6.
How Edelman became a sculptor with an international reputation is an interesting story.
Edelman, an engineer trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, always loved the arts. He wrote poetry, founded the underground Hovey Street press. He always worked with his hands, usually wood, even while building his career in metal trading, work that took him around the world while based in Chicago. It was not until retirement about a dozen years ago that he began making art from metal.
“My wife told me I should take a welding class while we were in Chicago,” he said of his spouse, Nina. “After we moved to Milwaukee I took a few other classes but I’m mostly self-taught.”
Metalwork came naturally to Edelman. His father, Sam, was part owner of Miller Compressing and Edelman says that at his father’s scrap yard he “hung around rusted cars, hungry shredding machines and monster crushers and balers.”
He works in steel, bronze and stainless and is comfortable working in both abstract and figurative forms.
“I like both approaches,” Edelman said. “I started out late in life so I never had to work to please anyone except myself.”
Edelman’s work is visible all over Milwaukee. His only other international piece was created in 2015, the Shofar Krakow, another 17-foot stainless sculpture installed in the old Jewish quarter of the Polish city where 60,000 Jews lived before the Holocaust. The population is growing again. The sculpture is hollow and can magnify the sound of a real shofar.
While only about half his work has religious themes, he has a keen interest in them.
“Old testament narratives are incredibly powerful and interesting,” Edelman said. “To me art is storytelling.”