Polish Sculptor in America
Edmund Kasimierz Ast, my paternal grandfather, was born in Poland. He trained at a local university and completed many sculptural commissions from local wealthy families. Edmund designed and carved many graveside markers and family memorials. He also worked concurrently on artistic pieces of his own choosing. ( See “Marble and Stone – A Polish Sculptor" at HubPages.com/phdast7 )
In the photograph above my grandfather and his son, Marek Ast (later known as Frank C. Bergman who was a commercial artist), flank a carving of an eagle completed in America.
At Marble Mill Company Edmund was employed doing some of the same work that he had done while in Poland. Many middle and upper class Georgia families wanted more that a simple marker or headstone to commemorate and honor their loved ones. Often they wanted elaborate and beautiful designs rendered in marble or other stone. In this photograph Edmund is joined by his youngest son Justin Ast. All three of his sons worked part time at the marble company after school, although none of them ultimately pursued sculpture as a profession, they all tended to be artistic and creative in various ways.
Edmund became quite famous locally, Metropolitan Atlanta, in the 1950's and 1960's for his elegant "Praying Hands." They could be used in a religious setting, next to a Bible or family altar, for example, or they could be used as bookends. The ones you are looking at are made of unfired white clay. After the hands were fired, they were painted with glazes and fired again.
The "Praying Hands" were available in a number of colors - mahogany, burnt umber, copper, brassy golden-green, as well as a shiny reflctive black. My Aunt Krysha (Christyna) the fourth child and only daughter born to Edmund and Wanda Ast served as the model for the feminine and more diminutive hands. (first picture) I do not know whose hands served as the model for the masculine pair of hands. (second and third pictures)
The Christ figure was commissioned by one of the local Catholic cathedrals in Georgia. Unfortunately, I do not know which one. His wife Wanda, my grandmother, and a family friend assisted Edmund with the painstaking and tedious, but necessary final sand papering and smoothing of the statue's surface.
On numerous occasions Edmund was asked to sculpt a bust. Sometimes it was to honor a city father or philanthropist. Sometimes a man would commission a bust of his wife or one of his children. Edmund kept photographic copies of any carved sculptures he completed, like the head of the young boy pictured above.
Later in his career he began to create molds (of faces) and then cast them in bronze, copper or other metals. He often kept several trial runs of a bust and some of those are still in my family. Of course, the most flawless and perfect casting was the one presented to the family. In this particular case, all I have to document the young boy's head are several photographs which date from the early 1950's.
The marble Virgin Mary stood in the shade garden at the back of my grandfather's property for many many years. After my grandfather died, his oldest son - my father, Jacek Ast, carefully wrapped the statue and transfered her to a grove of fruit trees in his back yard. She was very old even then, beginning to show stains and age and there were pieces missing from the base, the pedestal upon which she stood.
She remained at my father's home until he died in December 2010 and my brothers thought she should come to my home for safe-keeping. Now she resides with me, but I think my home is a temporary resting place, for we have a cousin, the oldest daughter of Marek Ast, ( one of my father's younger brothers) who is a practicing Catholic and I think perhaps the Virgin Mary should go to her.
The pictures above were taken in 2011; they do not do justice to the statue.
In the 1960's both of my grandparents were often asked to exhibit their work, Wanda's paintings and batiks and Edmund's sculptures, at local museums, art galleries and even in banks. This picture is of my grandfather Edmund standing next to the statue of the Virgin Mary. I attended this showing and it was held in the Marietta Fine Art Gallery.
This is my uncle Marek Ast (who later became a well known commercial artist in Chicago) standing next to the statue in my grandfather's barn/sculpture studio shortly after it was completed. The photograph demonstrates the very light buff color of the original stone.
I do not know why the piece remained in the family. Perhaps the original diocese that commissioned it decided they did not want it. Perhaps this was one of Edmund's less-than-perfect trial runs and a second Mary is in a church garden somewhere. Perhaps one day I will find it.
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