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Polish Sculptor in America

Updated on January 16, 2013
phdast7 profile image

Theresa Ast earned a PhD (Emory) in European History and has taught history for 20 years. "Confronting the Holocaust" available at AMAZON..

Marek Ast working with his father Edmund Ast
Marek Ast working with his father Edmund Ast | Source

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 )

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.

Justin Ast and his father Edmund Ast display a carving of a spray of flowers intended for a gravesite.
Justin Ast and his father Edmund Ast display a carving of a spray of flowers intended for a gravesite. | Source

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.

Virgin Mary by Edmund Ast
Virgin Mary by Edmund Ast | Source

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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    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hello Bruce - Just taking a break from raking leaves and pulling weeds - which I tend to do either first thing in the morning or in the evening once it has cooled off. How nice to find your wonderful comments. :) It is special and comforting to have some of Wanda's paintings and some of Edmund's sculptures in my home.

      I love that you think of it as your "own private art exhibit." I kind of feel like that is what I am sharing when I post hubs about them. A fifty year retrospective of their hard work and creativity. I have two more hubs to do with Edmund's sculptures, oh for more time, more time.

      I am happy to be a blessing to HP if I can be, certainly many of you are a blessing and encouragement to me. I hope you are having a wonderful week and knowing your commitment to that which is right and true and your heart of gratitude, I am sure you are. :) Theresa

    • Born2care2001 profile image

      Rev Bruce S Noll HMN 

      5 years ago from Asheville NC

      Hi Theresa!

      What a wonderful visual testimony of your grandfather's gifts. I can't imagine the powerful feeling of creating something with my hands that remains after I'm gone. It must be an incredible joy to have articles that your family has touched with their own hands over the years. It would certainly fill my heart.

      I'm envious of the talent handed down through your lineage. I am so grateful you are sharing. It's kind of our own private art exhibit. How cool is that?

      You are a blessing to our community and we are fortunate you are open to sharing your family works of art!

      May peace always walk with you!


    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hi Alastar - It does indeed! :) I didn't inherit any of the obvious artistic talents -- painting, sculpting, composing. But I am quite content with my forte, my niche, which is words. Surprisingly, I never thought of my writing as going beyond academia. Then a good friend talked me into joining HP, and the rest is History, Art History and Family History. :) Take good care. Theresa

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      5 years ago from North Carolina

      Creativity runs in your family big time, Teresa! It doesn't take an expert in sculpting to know the beauty of these photos of sculptures. So very enjoyable hearing the backstory of your family and viewing these wonders. Maybe fortunate with the one staying in the family, maybe eh.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hi Valleypoet - Its funny, he was a fairly impatient person when it came to people, but with his art and creative work he had infinite patience. He was incredibly talented. I hope to do one or two more hubs about his work. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hello John - Good to hear from you. So glad you appreciated this Hub. I am often in awe of the incredible creative sides of my Polish grandparents and so when I tackle a hub about either of them, I try to do my very best. Thank you for such generous and encouraging comments. I hope all is well. Theresa

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      You must have to be incredibly patient and focused to produce a work of the quality shown well as having loads of natural talent...thanks for sharing :-))

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Theresa, and what a great hub this one is!

      You have a great family heritage, which also shows in your meticulous and enlightened hubs.

      Voted up and away


    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Good Morning, Pavlo (guess its not morning where you are) - I am very proud of them and their work. It has been a privilege and a blessing to be surrounded by such creative people. I am doing my best to preserve and record their work and life for my children and grandchildren. Hope all is well with you and yours. Blessings. Theresa

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hi Mary - I am incredibly fortunate to have had and still have so many creative and gifted artists in my life. Being surrounded by their artwork has been a great blessing in my life. Edmund was indeed a great professional. His goal was always perfection., which made for a demanding and at times cranky man, but an incredible artist. :) Thanks for stopping by. Theresa

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Good Afternoon Alan. It is indeed a pleasure, joy, and blessing. It is strange that I have ended up with so many remnants. My father was in the Air Force for 25 years so we were away from Georgia and the grandparents far more than we were here. Luckily, both my mother and Bobcia (my Polish grandmother) were great letter writers, so we never lost touch. I re-settled in Georgia in my early twenties, married and started having children. We at last lived in the same city. :)

      However, I was busy raising three little boys and Edmund and Wanda were not typical grandparents at all. They loved us dearly, but they loved and valued their work, their art above everything. They were very interesting and compelling people, but not your typical warm and fuzzy grandparents. :) I spent the most time with them near the very end of their lives. My father as their eldest child became the guardian and caretaker of their life's work -- of the sculpture, paintings and poems...and in time as his health failed, as the oldest child I became the guardian and caretaker.

      For a long time I simply had boxes and boxes of family belongings and no time to explore them. Supporting three children on my own and trying to attain tenure at Reinhardt so I would have some security seemed to consume all my time and energy. It is in the last seven years or so that I have taken time to write for myself -- to get to know my grandparents gain through their art and her poetry.

      The thread you spoke of has led me to a quite wonderful and fulfilling family tapestry. And I think wrapping myself in that cloth is what opened the closed door for my own poetry. Truthfully, and not because I didn't try or want to, but I wrote six poems in thirty-five years, although like many young people I wrote prolifically between 17 and 22.

      To begin writing again, to edit Wanda's poetry (hopefully for a book), to give image and word to Edmund's life's work had been immeasurably gratifying. Something very old, but always there within me I think is slowly but surely being completed as I complete preserving their work and sharing it with family and friends. Thank you for appreciating them and what the thread and tapestry mean to me.

      I guess I shall go wash my face now, because I have been crying as I wrote this. But as I occasionally try to explain to friends, their is good crying and bad crying. The tears of good crying are healing, bittersweet at times. but they confirm in me the threads that connect me with my family who are gone and leave me ever more determined to continue spinning threads, words, art, and music for my children and grandchildren. I have gone on too long, but I do thank you for being the provocation of my afternoon tears. ~~Theresa

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Dear Theresa, if I were you I would be also be so much proud of my family name! Talented people are rare. Thank you for sharing this with us!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      You must be so proud. How lucky you were to be surrounded by such beauty. A beautiful career carried out to the max. The pictures show such talented and fine artwork. You just know these things were done by someone with great pride in his work.

      Voted up, awesome, and interesting.

    • arb profile image


      5 years ago from oregon

      Hello dear Theresa. What a blessing to own such a familiararity with your own heritage. I know little of my own. Not only to know, but, to have remnants from your ancesters! Wow! Something about following a thread that completes us. All along the way and then; the cloth from which you come. Miss you. Miss being here. Be well my dear friend.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you teaches. I did have very talented grandparents. In the next two generation their DNA and gifts manifested more as singing and playing musical instruments. Although, now that I think about it ,as a young man when he was courting the ladies, Edmund played the violin. Guess, onc he caught Wanda, he moved on to other endeavors...and there was that interruption we refer to as WW II. Hope all is well with you.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      How beautiful! Thanks for sharing your grandfather's talent with us. He was so creative and his passion shows in the sculptures shown. What a fascinating background, Theresa. Creativity must run in your family!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Good Morning Nellieanna. It was a tremendous learning experience, but am glad to be back. Crazy bust at school of course trying to make up the lost week, but I hope to write about James Young and Holocaust Memorials and Monuments before too long. I put up the hub on sculpture because it was one that I had 80% finished several months ago and somehow never got back to, so finishing it went quickly. :)

      Life is such a mix of joy and sadness. One of my best friends went to Washington with me. We shared the hotel suite and while I was at USHMM studying everyday she was wandering the city doing art and culture. Then we spent our evenings together. We were having a very nice time together, then early Wed morning her dad called.

      Her 88 year old mother had fallen down the stairs in her house and broken an awful lot of bones and was in the hospital in a coma. Later the doctors said she had had a severe heart attack and her heart was terribly damaged. Marcia caught the Amtrak train to Savannah that afternoon and her mother did wake up enough for her to know that Marcia was there. But she did not recover and passed away on Sunday. Today is the funeral and it has been a sad week.

      Don't know why I shared all this except that you are a sympathetic listener and such a caring person. If Marcia and her family come to mind today, I am sure they would appreciate, and I would appreciate, your prayers. Thank you. Theresa

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      5 years ago from TEXAS

      Theresa, what a lovely family art heritage. So much talent in one family! No wonder you have such depths of talent!

      The sculptures are beautiful. I love the hands and the way they can be arranged to be viewed from various vantage points, as well as used as stand-alone art or as bookends. Incredibly beautiful is the young boy's bust. The floral spray must surely have been an amazing marker for a gravesite.

      I'm so happy to see you're back from your trip. I'm sure you're extra busy but look forward to reading all about it when you've time to write it! Hugs.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you shining. My father's side of the family, the Polish side were incrdibly artisitic and creative. A painter/poet married a sculptor. :) My mother's family was more focused on education, great readers. Both my mother and her mother were teachers. Of course so am I, now that I think about it. :)

      I appreciate your kind words about the just seems like the right thing to do. It will mean more to her as a Catholic than it would to me as an Interdenominational Protestant. I willl take lots more pictures before it goes to her home. :) Blessings!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Bill. He was an eccentric and at times difficult man, but incredibly hard-working and gifted. I feel like that in today's world a lot of people think all they need is a talent or gift and they aren't wiliing to put in the time and effort it takes to build a career. Kind of sad. It has been raining here for five days - not typical for GA. I will blame my modd and thoughts on that. Hope all is well with you and yours. Theresa

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      This is a truly fascinating and impressive family history! Your grandparents and their son were absolutely phenomenal sculptors. Thank you for sharing a truly impressive and honorable part of your family tree.

      I commend you for being so obliging toward offering the important statue to your cousin.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Frank - You have a keen eye. I have wanted for some time to share my grandfather's gifts and work, since I shared my grandmother's many months ago. Finally had time to do it and of course one of the joys of creating a hub is revisiting all the family history and pictures. :) I like your description..."simple, but complex." Edmund did a lot of his smaller pieces out of his own pocket (which is why he worked full -time for 30 years as a draftsman at Lockheed) , but for larger pieces there would usually be a formal commission with maybe 30% of the price paid up front to cover materials. I don't remember anyone in the family ever talking about a govt grant. Edmund was fiercely independent, argumentative and followed no one's rules but his own. I can't imagine him winning a grant, where you really do have to play ball with the people who hand out the money. :(

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a wonderful talent. Thank you for sharing this man and his vision with us. I agree with Frank...the simplicity plus complexity is beautiful.

      Blessings to you my friend,


    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      5 years ago from Shelton

      the designs are indeed creative in these sculptures. reminds me of that Polish American Sculptor who designed the Crazy Horse Memorial.. I forget his name hmm oh yeah! Ziolkwski ...some of the pieces there have that same purpose flaw in the design.. I love it's simplicity yet complexity.. I know it doesn't make sense.. but i get that feel you know something looking easy to do but really not.. did he raise money or given grants to help create.. I think the government was giving grants at that time to these but thank you for the share PHDAST7


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