Friday, May 21, 2021

Preserving The Memory of Acclaimed Sculptor Arnold Stone

By Michael Perlman

Floating Leaves sculpture fountain by Arnold Stone, Photo by Michael Perlman

Most recently, the nearly 2-story “Floating Leaves” sculpture fountain of the shuttered Parkside Chapel at 98-60 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, was relocated off-site. This was after Rego-Forest Preservation Council’s initiative to secure an early 1960s prized work by the late sculptor Arnold Stone to a new home, ideally at a nearby cultural institution. Parkside Chapel by notable architects Henry Sandig and Robert Kasindorf, was designed as tribute to the Israelites, the Ten Commandments, and the Sinai desert, and offered a Modernist twist on traditional symbolism. 

Arnold Stone building the Floating Leaves sculpture fountain in Sea Cliff, Courtesy of Paula Stone

Arnold Stone, an award-winning sculptor, painter, illustrator, and a dentist, passed away at 49 in 1971, but his memory is very much alive thanks to Paula Stone Borge, his daughter, and Robert Andrew McKie, his stepson, who are preserving his artwork and sharing stories. 

Dr. Arnold Stone, a native of Boston, relocated to Flushing, Bayside, and then a Victorian at 285 Prospect Avenue in Sea Cliff, a seaside L.I. village which became increasingly known for its Bohemian character and art galleries. Dr. Stone’s extensive rundown of exhibitions included The Heckscher Museum of Art, Guild Hall, the Alba House Gallery in Sea Cliff, Plandome’s North Shore Unitarian Center, and the Ruth Dean Garden.    

Stone considered Sea Cliff as an ideal place to call home. “The town was filled with sailors, musicians, painters, sculptors, and writers. Children were free to explore the many parks and beaches and ride bicycles everywhere. Our living room was always filled with a diverse group chatting about the social and political concerns of the day.”

Her room overlooked her father’s studio, where “Floating Leaves” among other prized works were born. She recalled, “I felt happy falling asleep to the sound of his sledgehammer hitting the anvil. He would listen to a jazz program by Ed Beech, and would call in to the station with requests, and Ed Beech would say, ‘Here is one for Doc out in his studio.’” She continued, “I loved the cozy feeling of knowing he was in the studio, doing something he loved.”  

The concrete garage yielded a fireproof setting for welding sculptures out of metal, using a forge, various torches, and anvils. She said, “There was also plenty of room for painting, carving stone, and drawing. It was very light inside, due to skylights and large windows overlooking Hempstead Harbor.”  

Stone remembers her father creating the sculpture fountain in his studio, during her childhood. She explained, “It is comprised of a series of large copper pans, shaped to resemble leaves. Angular lines of steel surround it, providing a contrast to the warmth of the copper leaves and the solid copper wall (which was until recently behind the sculpture fountain). I think the contrast between the interesting strong straight-edged lattice and the flowing leaves filled with streaming water is like modern architecture set among natural elements.” Her father was a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. She continued, “I think about the cooperation between manmade elements and structures and nature. Copper is a natural element in the earth, but steel is manufactured. It is also suggestive of the contrasts in our lives.”

Her father created smaller fountains for residences, sculptural features for public spaces, and freestanding sculptures for many private collections, but this was the largest public work. She explained his passion for fountains. “It provides a lovely atmosphere for reflection and meditation and symbolizes the flow of life. We lived on the edge of Long Island sound and loved the sound of waves, seagulls, and the fog horn we could hear at home. His goal with this fountain was to provide a simple, beautiful, peaceful space for feelings and thoughts.”

She would work as a professional photographer and cover the news. Aside from music, she and her father produced art. “My father taught me how to carve stone, and we made jewelry together. I was with him while he made his artwork and gardens.” She feels that her interests of visual arts, music, theater, and science mirror those of her father, who was very interested in architecture. We also always try to help people. We grew up attending marches for equality and demonstrating to end the war in Vietnam.”  


Arnold Stone at his exhibition with Metamorphosis & Mississippi Jury, Courtesy of Paula Stone

Stone and her brother take pride in being the stewards of some of his sculptures, but explained, “He made so many, and we do not know who bought them and where they are.” They have Mississippi Jury, Monument, SST, ABM, Icarus, King Canaveral, Metamorphosis, another tall figure and anti-war figure, and several table top figures and abstract sculptures, and some metal and carved stone.

She said, “We would love to know who has the largest anti-war piece, a soldier’s head mounted on two large wagon wheels balanced by two bowling balls below, and we would like to know about a very tall, life-size Metamorphosis. We would like to know about any of his works, since we have no records.”

“The legacy our father leaves behind is one of savoring life, education, taking an interest in current events, trying to make a better world, enjoying the marvels of the earth, and biology, geology, technology, theater, dance, music, painting and sculpture, and humor,” said Stone. She admires his love with life and curiosity about everything. “He helped me learn how to find joy and wonder in almost everything, and to approach life with empathy, affection, humor, and gratitude.”

Robert Andrew McKie explained his stepfather’s interest in literature, art, and music. “He was an authority on jazz. He was a drummer throughout college. His interest in led him into early experimentation in high fidelity sound reproduction, which back then meant building a lot of your own equipment. About this time, he decided to exercise some of his G.I. Bill benefits and take courses at the New School for Social Research. At first, he made jewelry, then took painting and sculpture classes.” Today he takes pride in carrying on Dr. Stone’s interest in music, love of books, and fascination with museums.

McKie was a very early computer scientist as of 1965. He was a visiting engineer at MIT, working on Project Athena, which was to revolutionize how undergrads were taught as in an interactive multimedia system.

He remembers Sea Cliff in 1958 for its great mixture of residents. “On our street, we had a Wall Street lawyer living next to a plumber, who in turn had a concert violist as a neighbor.”    

McKie pointed out that while Dr. Stone served his dental practice patients with care until his death, his heart was not in it. “He would often duck out between scheduled patients to work in the studio. His arms became very muscular with all the metal and stone work. Generally, he would work long hours in the studio, often just dashing to eat quickly and return.” 

As for the sculpture fountain, he said, “It should take a very special space, as it was designed around a corner alcove. I would consider contributing to its resurrection, and as for other works, I would love to see them on public display permanently. I would consider giving up ‘Mississippi Jury’ to the right venue.” McKie also owns one small painting from the ‘Bayside’ days of a series of clowns/mimes, an alabaster hippopotamus, an oil painting of a hippo, a bronze seagull, and his record collection.

Many friends from his Sea Cliff days have pieces of Dr. Stone’s artwork, which they cherish. One of his friends is Jerry Zimmermann, who said, “Arnie will never die. He is a force in all of our memories. The 50 years from his passing seems like an instant relative to the force of his being."