In memory of sculptor Richard Lieberman

Richard Lieberman
sculptures in this post by Richard Lieberman, who died two days ago
We received this heartfelt email a couple of days ago from Amy Masterman, Executive Director of the Allens Lane Art Center, where Richard Lieberman taught right up to the end of his life.

Richard died today, August 17th. He was born in Kiev, Ukraine, about 93 years ago. Richard’s life was about sculpture. He was smart, outspoken, critical, visionary and absorbed in sculpture.

We will be planning some things to commemorate Richard and will be in touch about a memorial event and/or retrospective. He was not only ground-breaking and prolific, but unusually humble about some famous commissions. We will do our best to honor him. Richard moved to America as a child. He attended Fleisher Art Memorial and Columbia University. In his more than fifty years of teaching sculpture at Allens Lane Art Center, Richard provided instruction to hundreds of students. He was also a teacher at many other local institutions such as Abington Art Center, Tyler School of Art and Main Line Art Center to name a few.

Richard’s sculpture has been exhibited in major national and international shows, and he is represented in private and permanent collections throughout the United States. He has created commissioned pieces including “Unity” for I.M. Pei located at 4th & Locust Streets; “Benjamin Franklin” in New York City; and “Earth” for the Emaus Library. Perhaps his most famous piece is the execution of the “Iwo Jima” statue from the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, “Flag Raising on Iwo Jima,” taken during World War II. Sadly, Richard never got credit for the original design of this famous piece that is in Arlington, VA. I saw him at the Art Center last week – he was feeling “terrific” and was excited to be working at night in a stealth session after Camp hours.

Richard loved the Allens Lane Art Center – the concept, the people – and especially his studio space there. From his pipe smoke to his extra-sensory way with materials to his cursing, he was authentically him through and through. His sculpture is housed in international private and gallery collections, and while his work is undisputably great, it is the uniqueness of his character that may be the most devastating loss to those who knew him. Never have I heard someone with such a definite opinion and not be afraid to say it. I laud him for being so fully him. He crumbled when his partner of 30 years, Barbara, died about a year and a half ago. But, he recovered – he continued to teach and sculpt – and of course that’s what he would do. He was ecstatic when his protégé, Gerard Cerini, had his first solo exhibit this past year. Gerard had been instrumental in keeping Richard vibrant. For years, Richard had been advising Gerard gently and directly on the evolution of his work, and Gerard drove frequently from New Jersey to bring Richard (Gerard still called him “Mr. Lieberman” though it’s hard to imagine two more intimately connected people) to Allens Lane to work at all hours of the day or night.

Richard Lieberman

Richard was eccentric, but that seems like an obvious thing to say. He loudly critiqued artists at their own openings. He smoked his pipe inside during class. He yelled at his students sometimes, which of course seems unacceptable, but they knew that he was frustrated that they weren’t tapping into all the talent he knew they had. Richard yelled at me sometimes, I forget why now, but more often he brought me a Whitman’s Sampler. Sometimes he brought me the sugar-free box, and I wondered if he was trying to hint at something regarding my figure. But I soon realized that it was those moments – sitting and sharing some chocolate with him (he was diabetic) – that it wasn’t just about form, it was about connection. I knew he loved where he worked, and I felt honored that he chose Allens Lane as his art center.

During the warmer weather of spring and early fall, Richard would take a break from sculpting by setting up his lawn chair in the grass, or sometimes right in the driveway outside the studio. He liked to doze in the sun. It made me nervous, thinking that someone would come around that bend too fast and knock him over. He wasn’t ever nervous about that though, it was his territory. I hope someday I feel comfortable enough to put my lawn chair in the middle of a thoroughfare or buy someone a treat that secretly I want to eat myself or be so completely honest with someone even though I know it might hurt them at first.

Richard was joyous last week when I saw him, excited about Gerard’s new series of sculptures and eager to work on one of his own pieces at 10 pm on a Tuesday night. I had been in a meeting with the architect who is doing our renovation plans, and when Richard found out he was an architect said to him, “Do you know of Louis Kahn?” and the architect laughed in a remarkable moment of solidarity and said “Of course. Oh, you’re Richard Lieberman!” It left no doubt in my mind that Richard is part of Allens Lane, now and always.

A few moments later, after I had been gushing for awhile to Gerard about the brilliance of his new piece of sculpture even while he continued to explain it to me, Richard finally said to Gerard, “Just shut up and buy her a Whitman’s Sampler.”

–by Amy Masterman