Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Picture Of The Day--The Arlington Chargers

Between the end of my Senior Year at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia and beginning of my Freshman Year at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I played baseball in The D.C. Industrial League. Still around today, The Industrial League was quality baseball back then. The Team Rosters were filled with many talented players, some just coming out of High School and heading to University (like me); those home for the summer from Collegiate Ball--wanting to keep their skills sharp; or gamers wishing to still play--after being released from their professional teams.

The Industrial League was made up of players who simply Loved The Game. It was extremely competitive.

And The Summer of 1977 Arlington Chargers were no less ambitious.

The Chargers were My Team. We weren't that good, but we weren't terrible either. And when The African Queen came across this photo from over 31 years past, it was just too memorable not to write about, because there is even a link to Our Washington Nationals today--in one of those Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon sort of ways. You see, The Arlington Chargers of 1977 had some celebrity--and it nothing to do with SBF.

My Brother Michael was just home from his Freshman Year at The University of Tennessee. As the starting 3rd Baseman in Knoxville, he had led The Southeastern Conference in Hitting that spring. He was a hot commodity. Scouts always showed up to see him play. When he graduated from T.C. Williams High School in 1976, he was the only person in Virginia State History (at that time) to be First Team in Two Positions in the same year--Pitcher and Third Base.

But Michael was far from being our only star.

The Scouts ALWAYS showed up to see our Leftanded Starter too. Atlee Hammaker was home from his Freshman Year at East Tennessee State University in 1977. A two sport star at Mt. Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia--Atlee was as good of a basketball player as baseball pitcher. He had led Mt. Vernon to The Virginia State Basketball Championships as a schoolboy. And although he continued to play basketball at East Tennessee, his calling was on the mound. Little did anyone realize that as Hammaker dominated that summer for Our Chargers, less than six years later, Atlee would be a National League All-Star for The San Francisco Giants.

Yeah, he was good.

And then there was Rick Vaughn. No--not THAT RICK VAUGHN from the "Major League" movies--but Rick Vaughn from T.C. Williams High School and then George Mason College. Rick was two years older than me but he and Michael and I had all played together at T.C. Williams (in fact there were five total T.C. teammates on The Chargers). In the spring of 1976, Vaughn helped to lead The Patriots (then a small commuter school in Fairfax) all the way to The NAIA World Series. It was GMC's (now GMU) first Athletic endeavor with a National Championship and The Big Time. One of George Mason's Star Pitchers, The Patriots would advance to the NAIA Playoffs all three years with Rick on the mound.

Yes, The Arlington Chargers of 1977 were a pretty interesting bunch and it's why I treasure this photo so much--even after all of these years. Thanks to Sohna for pulling it out and reminding me of the good old days.

Unfortunately, Michael never made it to the professional ranks--personal problems got in the way. And although Michael never realized his dream of playing professionally--thankfully today--he is happily married with two kids--one a rising baseball star. For a time, he had lost that aggressiveness, the feeling of belonging--something Atlee Hammaker NEVER lost. In all my years of playing competitive sports, never did I play alongside such a cool customer. Hammaker was never fazed and the only thing that held him back in The Majors--were injuries. Arm ailments sidetracked what was a very promising Major League Career. Hammaker would win 59 Games in The Big Leagues, but Atlee wished he could have done more.

Like extending his career, something which Rick Vaughn has done on the professional sports level nearly his entire adult lifetime--off the field of play. After his baseball playing career ended, Rick moved to sports management and relations. The Resume is Stellar. 10 Years with The Baltimore Orioles, five as Director of Public Relations--staying until 1993. Two Seasons as The Director of Public Relations for The Washington Redskins. And even a stint as TOP PR Man for The Washington Federals of the ill-fated United States Football League. Up until 1995, Rick had worked his entire sports life in The Baltimore-Washington Market. Then in 1996, he picked up his family and moved them to Tampa Bay, returning to baseball in PR for the upstart Devil Rays. 12 years later, Rick Vaughn is still there as Vice-President of Communications for the Defending American League Champion--Tampa Bay Rays. He is one of the most respected PR Directors in the business.

And better yet--and this is where Our Washington Nationals fit into the equation--Rick Vaughn and his family are very good friends with Our Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes and his family. For seven years, Rick and Charlie worked together for Tampa Bay Devil Rays Games. They are still very close today. Over the past few years, Rick, Charlie and I have all chuckled over the irony.

Just another example of how small the world really is.

The 1977 Arlington Chargers--The Picture Of The Day.

In the above closer cropped photo--Rick Vaughn is second on the left in the second row. All four players directly to his left are T.C.Williams Graduates--Terry Long, Carl Hooper, Michael and me. Yes, I know it's hard to believe, but I not only had hair, but some long and flowing Reddish-Brown stuff. Amazing even for me to look at today!!

And in this closer cropped shot--Atlee Hammaker is standing behind Michael and I--just over my right shoulder.

Now The Bonus Picture:

Atlee Hammaker holding the runner from Struby's Mobil on 1st base--SBF manning the bag. Our home field was Wakefield High School in Arlington County, near Bailey's Crossroads and the Arlington County, Fairfax County and City of Alexandria triangular borderline. The field is still in use today as a baseball diamond.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Perfect Distance

The Category Was: Perfect Distances

The Answer Was: 90 Feet

I nearly jumped out of my seat watching JEOPARDY! on television (something we don't do a lot of). The African Queen telling me to calm down.

But how could I?

There was only one Correct Question: What is the distance between the bases on a baseball diamond?

Even Alex Trebek himself had to pounce in and pontificate on this answer and question: "Yes, 90 Feet, remarkable how perfect that distance is in the great game of baseball!!"

Canadian Native Alex understood the geometric simplicity and perfection of the baseball field. And when he called it "The Great Game" did I ever smile accordingly. It's my MONIKER for baseball.

Yes, Mr. Trebek gets it, just like one of his contestants that answered correctly on this particular program.

Of course I would like to know: Is Alex a Dodger Fan?

But this moment also had me wondering again about how exactly did someone come up with 90 Feet between bases?

The Best Answer: No Good Reason.

It just happened.

In 1845, The Knickerbocker Club of New York officially paced off 42 strides from home to second base and then from first to third base to form the infield bases. If you then consider one stride being a three foot length--the corresponding distances would be 126 feet. Laid out a diamond, 90 feet would be the resultant triangle between bases (home plate to first, second to third, etc.).

Not only simple, but Simply Perfect.

How many times does that ground ball hit by the batter result in the fielder throwing out the runner by the typical half stride at the bag?

How many times does that little extra effort by the runner result in the umpire calling safe?

Every player knows how quickly he must field and toss the baseball or run to the bag.

Whether a throw is coming across the infield or from the outfield, everyone, even those in the stands, knows when the play is going to be close.

Just like you know when the runner is going to be out.

As well as--when you know the runner is going to be safe.

That 90 Foot Distance between bases allows the right amount of athleticism, and skill, to participate in the game--neither really overshadowing the other.

There will always be great fielders.

There will always be great runners.

But none of them will ever be as Perfect as the 90 Foot Distance set between bases on the baseball diamond.

When you really thing about it, the Game Of Baseball has changed tremendously over the past 163 Years of play. But from the very first days of Organized Ball--the infield distances have stayed the same. If a player from 1845 emerged today to watch the modern game--he may not know all the rules--but he would know the game being played was BASEBALL.


90 Feet--A Perfect Distance.

PS--The Knickerbocker Rules

PSS--Who wants to take a stab at 60' 6"? Why not just 60 Feet for the distance from The Pitchers Mound to Home Plate?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Picture Of The Day--Short But Good

In The History of Major League Baseball, less than 70 players have produced in the Big Leagues while standing 5'5'' or less in height. Anyone who has followed The Great Game knows the story of Eddie Gaedel--the 3'7" Dwarf that St. Louis Browns Owner Bill Veeck signed and sent to the plate in a publicity stunt on August 19, 1951 in the second game of a doubleheader against The Detroit Tigers.

But only baseball aficionados probably remember Albie Pearson. Standing a mere 5'5" in height, this one-time career Minor Leaguer was traded from The Boston Red Sox to The Washington Senators, along with Norm Zauchin, for Pete Runnels in January of 1958 (in yet another case of The Senators trading away their best players in a salary dump). Albie's diminutive stature caught everyone's attention. So did the very fact that Albe Pearson could actually play the game--and well. He used his height and speed to his advantage--getting on base with walks and slap hits--while fielding a very decent centerfield.

#6 on your Old Griffith Stadium Scorecard (sponsored by Briggs Hots Dogs--among many others) only weighed 141 pounds during his Freshman Season of Major League Baseball. Yet Pearson played so well, he was rewarded The 1958 Rookie Of The Year Award by The American League. Then, after a slow 1959 start to the baseball season, The Senators traded him to The Baltimore Orioles for Lenny Green--another lefthanded hitting outfielder.

Struggling as an Oriole while playing in Baltimore, Albie would eventually be selected by The Los Angeles Angels (not the "Of Anaheim" version) in the VERY FIRST EXPANSION DRAFT ever held by Major League Baseball--in December, 1960. After The Original Senators moved to Minnesota--The American League expanded from eight to 10 teams by adding The New Washington Senators and The Los Angeles Angels in 1961. Lo and behold, Pearson became a star in Hollywood during the early years of The Angels. Where else? It's almost a Story Book Tale!! And in 1963, then Number 28 in your scorecard was named an All-Star and finished the season ranked in the MVP Voting.

Although Albie would leave the game in 1966 at the young age of 31, Pearson retired knowing he may well have been short in stature, but he stood tall on The Major League Diamond. He was a pretty good ballplayer. And at least for a while, fans in Washington, DC enjoyed Albie Pearson--as A Washington Senator.

PS--What's great about the above picture is first--look how both the umpire and catcher are crouching but still tower over Pearson. And second--doesn't Albie's bat look like it's almost as tall as he is? Terrific!!

PSS--As a side note--in 2007, Pete Runnels was named #43 on The All-Time Boston Red Sox Players List, just after Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and ahead of Reggie Smith, Trot Nixon, Rick Burleson and Johnny Damon. Runnels was a really good and versatile team player himself--three times The American League Batting Champion. All three hitting championships wearing a Boston Uniform.

Photo by George Silk, Copyright of Time, Inc.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasons Greetings & Happy New Year!!

2008 has been quite the year for The African Queen and I.

We spent months covering the biggest Presidential Election of our lifetime, but still made the time and effort to enjoy baseball at New Nationals Park with Our Washington Nationals. No, the Inaugural Season on South Capitol Street didn't turn out anywhere near as well as anyone wanted, but it did not take away all the fun we had watching Nats Baseball.

We've been fortunate to make many friends through Baseball in The Nation's Capital. Many of whom have come to know us due to this Nats320 Blog. A passion that seems to have taken on a life of its very own. Sohna and I love attending each and every game, posting up at the charity events and the many extracurricular activities surrounding Our Washington Nationals. Then, writing all the stories. This is post number 458 for 2008.

But our writings would not mean as much if not for the very fact many of you stop by on a regular basis to read and comment.

Thank you so very much for letting us be a very small part of your baseball enjoyment. We are always humbled by the response. It's always good to know that others enjoy Washington Baseball as much as we do.

So as this year comes to an end--whatever your choice of celebration this holiday season--The African Queen and I would like to wish EVERYONE a Very Merry Christmas, or Happy Hannukah, or A Blessed Eid, or Joyous Kwanza. Please come back and see us again in 2009. And if you see us walking around Nationals Park, or somewhere else, please stop us to say hello. We would enjoy the opportunity to meet you.

Have A Safe and Happy New Year!!


When Our Washington Nationals announced yesterday afternoon the signing of five free agent players to minor league contracts, there was not a lot of buzz about these latest of invitations to Spring Training--2009. In fact, there was no reason to get excited. All of these players have holes in their games--it's why they are free agents. But two of them at least have history with The African Queen and I along with Old Section 320 at RFK Stadium. One of whom was involved in maybe the funniest unexpected moment during the three years of Nats Baseball on East Capitol Street.

But first up, there is Jorge Sosa. In 2005, Sosa was a starting right handed pitcher for The Atlanta Braves. That Inaugural Season of Washington Nationals Baseball was also Sosa's finest season as a Major League Pitcher. He finished the 2005 campaign with a 13-3 mark and a stellar 2.55 ERA. On Saturday, September 10th with Washington reeling in the standings, but still in the playoff hunt, Sosa would pitch eight shutout innings at RFK Stadium on National Television. Fox Sports was carrying the game. Braves Rightfielder Jeff Francouer would save Jorge's day with a SPECTACULAR running into the wall head-first catch off the bat of Cristian Guzman in the bottom of the 5th with My Main Man!! Ryan Church on first base. Francouer JUST getting his glove on the ball as it headed over the rightfield wall and into The Nationals Bullpen (I stand corrected, Washington had yet to switch their bullpen from leftfield to rightfield). Jeff pounding the green padded wall so hard, the paneling came loose and the game had to be delayed for a repair. Surgery to the wall, not to Francouer's head, or body (This play was easily one of the best defensive catches in the three years of play at RFK. Francouer had no fear).

But what made this game special was The Catching Of A Foul Ball. In 2005, I was 46 Years Old and had NEVER caught a foul ball EVER while attending countless Major League Baseball Games--not a single one. For this particular afternoon affair, we had extra seats, so Sohna and I gave our Section 320 tickets to good friends to enjoy all the camaraderie that Section 320 became at RFK. We, instead, sat in the front row on the Upper Deck, right behind the first base dugout in Section 413.

In the bottom of the 7th, with Washington already down 4-0 to Atlanta, Sosa was cruising along with his shutout. Up stepped Vinny Castilla with one out. Being the first pitch swinging hitter that Old Number 9 was, Vinny swung at Jorge's very first offering. Right away, Sohna and I realized the resultant foul ball was heading right for us!! But, would it make the Upper Deck? Scared that I would fall over the railing, instinctively, The African Queen hung on to my leg as I reached over and clasped the baseball with both hands. I had caught the ball and couldn't believe it!! The usual claps of nice catch--ensued. Later, we would find out that Fox TV had caught my catch as well, replayed it, while the announcers chuckled over Sohna holding my leg.

After catching the baseball, I looked down and over at all of our friends in Section 320 along the 3rd baseline at RFK Stadium. MickNats, NatsDelNegro (now called BangTheDrumNatly), SenatorNat and RallyTime!! Richard were just howling in laughter. They all knew SBF had never caught a baseball at a Major League Game before and were living in the moment with Sohna and I over the unexpected happening in seats we normally would never sit. Since that day, we've probably caught and retrieved about a Baker's Dozen Baseballs at Nats Game, but none have been as exciting or thrilling as catching that first one--thrown by Jorge Sosa and fouled off by Vinny Castilla.

Still have that ball--framed in a protected case. Yes, it's priceless to me.

Interestingly, Castilla is also involved in one of the funniest moments of All Time in Section 320 at RFK Stadium, although Castilla was long gone as a Third Baseman for Our Washington Nationals at the time of this incident. But, this moment was just as PRICELESS!! All thanks to Jose Castillo and The RFK Stadium PA Announcer.

Now you may recall, The RFK PA Guy was named Jim Clarke. He once worked New Orleans Saints Football Games at The Superdome in Louisiana, but he didn't know ANYTHING about baseball. Consistently over the two years he worked Nationals Games at RFK, he would make mistake after mistake that you just had to shake your head about. In Section 320, we used to laugh all the time at his blunders. Later, we would find out, even The Media Guys in the Press Box had issues with his errors. And when he was eventually fired, his wife went BALLISTIC about how it was handled.

On Friday Night, May 5th, 2006, Our Washington Nationals were hosting The Pittsburgh Pirates. Jose Castillo (not Castilla) was the starting second baseman for The BUCCO's that evening. In the top of the 2nd inning upped stepped the right handed hitting Jose Castillo to the batters box. As he steps in, ready to take his cuts, over the loud speaker is CLEARLY HEARD: "Now batting for The Pittsburgh Pirates, Number 14, VINNY CASTILLA!!"

Vividly, I recall looking over at BangTheDrumNatly and he's giving me that "Did I hear that correctly look!!" Yeah, he did say it even The African Queen noticed the mistake. For the next inning and throughout the game, none of us in Section 320 could do anything more but laugh, almost uncontrollably, over the miscue. Mr. Clarke had made many a blunders on the PA--but that one was just too good not to enjoy. What made it even better, was The PA Announcer never corrected himself--not once. To this day, I still find myself chuckling over that incident.

And when I read that Jose Castillo was signed to a Minor League Contract yesterday by Our Washington Nationals, the memory of that day just came flowing back into my head, as if it happened yesterday. That and all the fun we always had, every single game, in Section 320 at RFK Stadium.

"Now batting for The Pittsburgh Pirates, Number 14, VINNY CASTILLA!!"


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

They Are Players Now

Would it have been a nice Christmas Gift if Mark Teixeira had chosen Our Washington Nationals as his next career baseball stop?

You better believe it!!

But there is no use whining over his decision today to join The New York Yankees. Because Our Washington Nationals may have lost THIS ONE BATTLE, but they may well have Won The War.

Throughout the four year history since baseball returned to Washington, DC, The Media has shown little respect for Washington's Team. As far as ESPN is concerned, you better be a Yankee, Red Sox, Angel, Dodger, Cubbie or Met to feel like you actually play Major League Baseball. Everybody else is just fodder; teams to play so you can pad your winning margins and rake in all the extra money and rewards that come with success. No other teams seem to matter to the mainstream national media. Sadly, at times, it also seems our local media shares that mentality.

There has been little respect for Our Washington Nationals. Yes, 2008 did not go anywhere near as planned, or hoped for, during The Inaugural Season of New Nationals Park. But it doesn't mean all is lost--FOREVER. Yet every single day, all that is written in the paper and online or talked about on TV is Washington is 'horrible' at this, or The Nats 'suck' at that. 'This Team Is Going Nowhere!!'

I don't buy that, and neither should you. Are things perfect? NO!! But, the world hasn't come to an end either--especially after today.

Not one single media outlet seriously considered Washington a stakeholder in The Mark Teixeira Derby. And as I wrote previously, it's unclear whether Teixeira seriously considered The Lerner's offer as well. But these past few weeks, unequivocally prove that Our Ownership Group, The Lerners, are willing to play ball!! HARDBALL, IN FACT, WITH BIG CONTRACTS. When the time is right and DC's Team needs to step up--They Are Going To Be There!!

You have to give The Lerners, Our Team President Stan Kasten and Our General Manager Jim Bowden huge credit for stepping into this fray, becoming a market player and changing the PERCEPTION of a franchise in disarray. The very moment Bill Ladson over at nationals.com mentioned how he was 'SHOCKED' by Washington's offer to Teixeira, a new era had begun on South Capitol Street. Not one single mainstream media outlet considered Washington a player. Probably, not many blogs either.

But They Were.

The Teixeira Offer by Washington certainly had EVERYONE talking Nats Baseball leading up to one of the biggest family times of the year, Christmas. The Holiday where EVERYBODY steps away from the games, at least for a while. How many of you weren't on the edge of your seat wondering of late? Could they sign him? Could Mark REALLY be interested in DC? This Soap Opera led the news, night after night over the past few weeks. For once, even during Washington Redskins Football Season, there was talk of Baseball In The Nation's Capital.

Washington Nationals Baseball.

I Loved That!

Unquestionably, Our Washington Nationals have a long way to go to became the perennial winning franchise all of us so badly what to see and enjoy. But you can no longer say WE ARE NOT PLAYERS IN THE GAME. I don't want to hear how AWFUL Our Washington Nationals are, FOREVER, from the media. The same folks who decried The Tampa Bay Rays last year, The Colorado Rockies the year before and countless others before them.

We may well have too many outfielders, not enough starting pitching or a solid enough bullpen right now, but Washington does have some really good talent. It's just that so many people really can't seem to see that forest before the trees. It's so true. Maybe, the best thing that has come out of The Mark Teixeira Sweepstakes is that A NEW LIGHT is now shining through the foliage on a long dismissed franchise in Major League Baseball--Our Washington Nationals.

Media--please take notice.

The Lerners, Mr. Kasten and JimBo lost JUST THIS ONE BATTLE. What they accomplished was setting themselves up to Win The War--in the near future.

The Are Players Now.

You need to report that also.

PS--An Early Merry Christmas to Nick Johnson!! Our Number 24 maybe The Biggest Individual Winning Stakeholder in getting back playing time for Washington over Teixeira choosing The New York Yankees today. Sohna and I love NJ and we are happy to see Nick possibly getting a deserved chance to return and play a healthy first base for Our Washington Nationals in 2009. If make-up means a lot, and Teixeira supposedly has it, well Nick's had make-up too, like for his entire Major League Career. He's proven that, countless times, both on and off the field of play. That man's a winner--and The African Queen and I will never give up on him. Hopefully, Our Washington Nationals will not as well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Statues--The Final Chapter With Omri Amrany

Click on any photo to expand and enlarge.
Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Picking up where we left off yesterday, Omri Amrany of Timeless Creations, Inc. and I are talking about his life's work in The Arts. Today, in the final chapter, Mr. Amrany discusses in greater detail, his current work producing the three statues of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities. This White Bronze Trio to be unveiled at Nationals Park in Spring of 2009. Today's journey will include a series of photos of all three pieces in some stages of production. As I mentioned yesterday, and will remind everyone again today--none of these works are fully completed until the unveiling on South Capitol Street. Changes, tweaks and modifications are made throughout every step of the process.

With that, here we go with The Final Chapter With Omri Amrany.

Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Turning more specifically to The DC pieces you are working on right now. People here in DC know what these three baseball players look like in their minds or from seeing Frank Howard actually play in person. How accurate must you be in your depiction in creating these three pieces? (SBF)

“You have to go and study about them and listen to people who knew them. You have to listen to what people imagined they were like and what makes them different than the others. The difference between the fine ideas of an artist, who doesn’t commit to any politician or sport or whatever, is that really you can do whatever you want and you do it because you want to do it—you want to express it. It will eventually become something else and someone will be interested in it because they will appreciate what you have done. When artists deal with a commission, and this goes from Michelangelo and throughout all of history, when artists work on a commission, he works on that commission with a committee—with a group of people. In this case, the world of sport, people have to recognize the faces. Where you are allowed to create is the sense of motion—the 4th Dimension. And what you create, what you contribute to the piece different than anybody else is where the satisfaction lies. But you have to be pretty much accurate.”
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“Now, everyday in my life as an artist, I am bottling the fact that most of the people say: ‘Realism is not necessary.’ Or, realism can be done in a different way. And they have given up on the photographic realism and equality of three dimensions. I am battling those facts to stay with that and still make it different, and make it unique. And make it the one I have not seen before because we should not eliminate anything completely. So, I am involved with the motion. I am involving all the other elements into this project to create that Sculpting Montage. But I keep the faces, and I keep the realism as it is.”

‘That’s why I work here with the 30 artists that work here in the studio. And we try to grow them into becoming Masters in their own pieces. We try to give the life into the piece. So when you look into the sculpture it looks like it is, it’s a way of following the shadows. And in sculpture everything is about the shadows. We train people here to create the form as it is and not as it is really. Let’s bring the life into the people we are recognizing.”
Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

When you are working on a project and seen the same object over and over again, you may miss some other idea or concept that might enhance your project. Does having all these other artists around help move things along when you get stuck? (SBF)

“Oh yeah. Lots of times people come and say (both Omri and Andy Rotman-Zaid chuckling). Don’t you think the human hand has five fingers, you put six? Or other things like that. People try to correct things, sometimes they are right, sometimes, they are wrong. We have never been perfect on anything. And we have even tried to re-create the imperfections of humanity. I am open to listen, but most of those projects, for example, The Washington Nationals, I put Jody Rotblatt to work on Walter Johnson. Sean Bell worked on Frank Howard and Oscar Leon worked on Josh Gibson. Oscar before that worked on another piece, which was Nellie Fox. And Sean worked on Harold Baines of The White Sox. They both started with me years ago—almost from scratch—and grew up into a level where Julie and I give them project after project. By allowing these artists to manage the projects with me, they work with other artists, advance things and I work with everybody together. Basically, we have layers of teams working together on each piece. They put their positive energy into each piece. And it’s very good training for them also.”
(Copyrights Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“You know it took me five drawings to convince The (Chicago) Tribune that Harry Caray is not a standing General. Harry Caray was the Grand Pa of Chicago. He used to walk at 4AM in the morning and chat with people over a bottle of beer. You have to respect him for that. So they (The Tribune) allowed me to create the lasting figure coming up from the ballpark. When the committee came over they said; ‘He feels like he is over me. Like he is alive.’—In the clay. And the feeling I have contributed here is who he was in reality, but also the art that was involved with it. His contribution (to The Cubs) was that he had taken this team all those years (of losing) and made them so lovable that no one was willing to give up on them—even if they keep losing.”

Yes, it’s very true, Harry Caray was in many respects larger than life and when I look at that particular piece you have reflected that in your work. (SBF)

“Thank you.”

What kinds of input do the family members, or in Frank Howard ‘s case he is still alive and well, had in your work on the DC statues? (SBF)
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“Some people come in from different directions and they want to see a figure standing on a base, very well respected looking. They have a fear that if you do something different there will be criticisms against it. Isn’t the art made to be created and thought about? If you create art, it’s to make people think. And sometimes the feedback is not so positive. You have to say OK. We’ve had a lot of responses (from the families), some different wishes."
(Sean Gibson Photo--Copyright Nats320)

"I think that Sean Gibson (Josh Gibson's Great-Grand Son) was very much contemplating the sculpture of Josh Gibson and agreed that everything is there. We got it."
Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

"Certainly, there were questions of whether we should do something like this or something like that, or you got him there. That’s what I like to see. I want people to stand there and argue. I want them to stand there in front of Frank Howard and argue if the position is right. The right foot position is correct—if the swing is OK. It’s possible to be flying so high like Michael (Jordan) and dunk it in that way. Is it possible to imagine this happening? This is the spirit, that is where the player introduces his spirit to the public that nobody else can do and makes him unique—different from everyone else.”

You want fans to contemplate and think about your work, not just admire? (SBF)

“I really want them to stand there and argue, just like they argue about baseball. The most fun things in life include going to the bar and arguing over baseball. I want them to argue about the pieces.”

(Laughing) Baseball fans may be the most argumentative people out there. (SBF)

(Chuckling) “Oh yeah. Oh Yeah!!”
Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

You sort of touched on this previously when we first started to talk about the statues. Obviously you have to do a lot of research on these particular players or any sports figure you are doing so you can accurately depict them in your final design—how much do you have to immerse yourself in the sport or that particular person? (SBF)

“In the Mid-West alone we have done over 60 projects, 120 pieces. In this country, probably over 70-75. I don’t know, I stopped counting. This is what we do, because we won the competition (bids for commissions). Probably twice more than that, we have lost. We did not get the commissions. We gave concepts to some teams which they didn’t grasp and we missed an opportunity to create something spectacular for them. I could talk day and night about what we did or what we wanted to do or we didn’t do. But we are so much into it (Sports Sculpture) that our artists here—myself, Julie other artists like Lou Cella and Oscar Leon are baseball fans and into sports. We have 30 artists in this studio and we also have a school—artists that have been here some for over 20 years since we came to this country. And they are still here. We have artists here who have lived the latest years of their lives here and it’s become their first home. And at the end of the day they used to go sleep in their homes (chuckling) but that was their first home—now it’s here.”

"We are dealing with these elements on such a daily basis that when a project comes along, like Ernie Banks (Cubs Hall of Famer), and it needs to be done--we have so much information about Ernie Banks that we went to Lou and said you are a crazy fan of The Cubs, go and do the job—sign your name on it. For him, it was a great thing to create the sculpture of Ernie Banks. The information was there for us all the time. If we need more, we just went to The Cubs and asked. We are getting whatever we need from them. Most of those team owners and group owners came over here. We know them. We meet them too. And if I needed The Tigers or The Red Wings, I went to the archives of The Little Caesar (Pizza Parlor) Organization (Owners of both Franchises), met the lady over there and she gave me whatever I needed that I didn’t know.”

It’s interesting that artistry is many times an individual process, but I am gathering from you that your place is also a team concept. (SBF)
Photo by ARZ for Timeless Creations, Inc. (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“Yes it is. I came to this country as an immigrant and became a citizen. I wish the people here in our studio that grow up with us and become Masters of their own—will have the same chance. That is why we’ve given them project after project. At a point in time in history, people will look back and will say: ‘Look at that place, this group of artists and what they achieved in their lifetimes. Just like in Europe, when you go to Barcelona or Paris, or Rome, Florence. And you see all those places, what their culture left behind. Our Great-Great Grand Kids are not going to look at who was the mayor of the city. They are going to look at the museums, the artwork, the sculptures and the paintings. That stuff is going to be left behind forever, just like the architecture.”
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Now I have the pictures you sent me in front of me right now. I don’t know if there is a short way of doing this, but could you take me through from start to finish how this process works to get to the final piece? And finally, I am going to get to the very fact that you are constantly changing the idea as the work progresses? (SBF)

“In the old times, 15 years ago (both of us chuckling), I was driving from Miami to Ft.Lauderdale to catch a plane back to Chicago and I got a phone call. There was a competition for a sculpture of Michael Jordan and I had three days and three nights to submit the materials. I sped up a little bit to get home as soon as possible and had a conversation with Julie. We went to the drawing boards. We had three days and three nights to do whatever I can. And what we could do in that time, using just drawings—the computer was not that advanced then. We worked to the max trying to create three different ideas. After a while, we thought we had lost it, until we got the call (while in Israel) that we had won the competition—come back and do the job.”
Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“Today, it’s a different world. You know yourself, today with a laptop, how advanced everything has become. Computers have developed so fast in the past 15 years that each year that development of technology and electronics—an electronic green revolution has ensued--instead of an industrial revolution, which is what is happening in the world right now. Everything goes so fast if you don’t follow up on it. Today, we take all the photos that we can (of the subject). We create a concept. Then we take that concept into the computer and we slice and dice to create the first collage effect. Then we further develop the concept, touch it up and create the imaginary effect we want to create. The discussion follows, can we take the risk? Will the committee look at this and say they want a standing general (instead). We don’t want a flying sportsman here. We don’t know what they are envisioning.”

Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
I am familiar with what they have at Citizens Bank Park. (SBF)

(All Citizens Bank Park Photos--Copyright, Nats320)

“OK, good."

“Most of the time, I will say, if I have to lose the project, this is what I do. This is who I am. And I take who I am, I send in my references. The committee then comes to you and says you are one of the three to five finalists. You then must go and create the maquette. The 3-Dimensional Miniature that will show the committee what they don’t understand by looking at a 2-Dimentional Poster. Some people might like the poster, but they might say it’s impossible to be completed (as planned). But if you do it in a miniature, say you take a small miniature of an airplane—you can make it into a real airplane—easy. You’ve seen it in the movie—The Flight Of The Phoenix.”

“And then you go to the competition and you have to argue your philosophy. Why you did what you did. Andy (Rotman-Zaid) and I went to Washington and we argued the subject. We requested to be the first because we had to drive back to Chicago and then I had to fly overseas. We didn’t know when we left what the committee thought. There were about 15 people there. We didn’t know what they thought about us. But, I knew one thing. I brought them unique ideas; Some things that other artists would not even think of doing, such as casting the sculptures in white bronze. Not many people even know about it, and not many foundries are willing to work with that either.”
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“What I did here is stretch the human links of knowledge into the form of art. When Andy and I discussed this, we said it’s all bets off in here. We don’t know what is going to happen. (After the presentation), I flew over to Tel-Aviv to the Kibbutz and Andy was on the phone telling me it’s up to you to lose or win. They have asked if you can do some slight changes. Of course, I will do some slight changes. It was a negotiation between the artist and the commission. If Michelangelo can do changes, I can do changes too!! (chuckling)”

"Now, I did the changes but some artists these days have found the easy way to do sculptures. They do laser cutting into Styrofoam. They get the Styrofoam and veneer it with clay. The pieces we do, you can do that way. We go into the hard core. You have to weld the spine of the sculpture like a human spine with all the form that can hold it in fly position. You have got to build it up into a strong material that will hold the clay in all directions and in all weather and all temperatures. And you have to go into reduction like you are carving marble. While everybody else is building up, we are carving down. Just like training in marble. It allows you to go and create the negatives and the positives stronger and follow the shadows. It creates the motion effect much better. In the way we work with the pieces, when the clay is finished, and the committee gives the OK to continue, the piece is still not finished. In the wax, we are still sculpting. In the bronze—in the very end—we are still sculpting.”
(Copyright, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“For example, in Wilt Chamberlain, I wanted to finish the piece with a plasma-cutter to create more energy, more flow in the form, burning the metal, shooting it out with the plasma. And I am planning to do it in some of my next pieces. I see the piece done only in the metal (not beforehand). Compared to an artist who does everything in the clay and when it’s done in the clay, that’s what is going to be in the wax—that’s what it’s going to be in the bronze. It’s a done deal. No, not for me. The sculpture is alive and in motion until we install it at it’s designated space.”

I would take it that there have been times where your original concept looked really good, let’s say, on the computer, on paper so to speak, but once you saw it transforming you realized you needed to make major changes along the way also? (SBF)

“You are perfectly right about that. I can honestly say that after looking at the initial concept, clients will say: ‘Let him go with that. Let’s see where he is going.’ Look at the pieces of The Red Wings, how the effect between the bronze, the glass and the 4th Dimension and the energy of form all work together. No doubt it’s also why you see them all over the televisions in the State of Michigan. It’s a proud billboard and statement for this team all-around. They have become a cultural effect (The Detroit Red Wings)."

“So, what is wrong with that? What is wrong with that? It’s good.”

Did you know at that time that Principal Owner Mark Lerner was one of the commission members? (SBF)

“Yes, I knew that. I talked with him briefly one time.

Looking at the pictures of the clays right now. If I understand correctly, there are two more steps, possibly three? (SBF)

Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“I need to work on Frank Howard’s wax and energy forms, because we noticed in the clay we couldn’t finish off the full effect on the energy. You got to go to the wax, dilute it and change it to make more forms of energy. From that moment it’s all about the casting and casing and the build up. It’s a very, very important step. We are working with a foundry of artists in Michigan, in Kalamazoo, the Alchemist Sculpture Foundry. Guys who themselves are artists and their understanding is tremendous and their excitement (for our projects) is as well. Every time we work with them they are waiting to see what the next challenge will be. How this piece is going to withstand its interior infrastructure and the forces of building this type of sculpture with all the elements added in.”

“Some people will go into their computer and try to create some thing like we did with Michael Jordan, with the wind factor on that sculpture (but they don’t understand the difficulty). This (our work) is going to be four times stronger than any structural engineer would have ever approved of. And they (the foundry) will be good to go with it. It’s unbelievable the work they do there. They will not take no for an answer; they do whatever is necessary to complete the job.”

How many more months will it take to finish these three statues knowing they are to be unveiled sometime in the Spring of 2009? (SBF)

“That is what it’s going to take.”
Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

So it’s going down to the wire? (SBF)

“I wouldn’t say that. Maybe the installation will happen at the last second, but I need to see the pieces a little earlier to work in the bronze. Andy and I will go and look at the entire pieces and do whatever I can to make any needed last changes. Andy will orchestrate the installation. So, we want to be sure that we don’t get to the last second (needing changes). Sometimes we have to get to the last second. Harry Caray we worked until 1:30 in the morning before the day of the unveiling because the granite company could not get the computer analyzing the right angles in the granite (for the base). So we had to finish it by hand.”

You just mentioned a few minutes ago you have to make some adjustments on the motion in Frank Howard’s swing, but overall, I am curious to know—are you happy with how everything is coming along on these three statues? How much have they changed from your original concept? (SBF)

“I am very pleased with what we have. And I am sure it will exceed my expectations on what we are doing. People do ask me what’s my best piece? Well, it’s the piece I have never done yet. I am hoping in my next sports figure that we do, we can go the extra mile. I will give you an example. I am working on a sculpture for Willie Mays and I created a drawing of him catching and throwing at the same time. Everybody knows “The Catch”. Many people forget about “The Throw”. Basically, he threw the ball and burned another player on the spot. So, the twist of it. The capability to run and catch with your back to the ball and then turn and make a pinpoint throw to another player. Well, he can do that right, but there is no computer out there that can do that yet. It’s what I call the Human Factor.”

“So, I am taking that, but I want to create it only by energy. It would be like taking The Mona Lisa painting and create Mona Lisa in which you see The Mona Lisa, but you don’t see her—just the energy. I want to go the extra mile with a sportsman that everybody will say: ‘It’s Willie Mays—The Catch, but what is here is The Spirit. That’s what I want to do.”

From start to finish, how long has this played out—from start to now with just a few months to go? How much time will be spent on these statues? (SBF)

(Andy Rotman-Zaid, Project Manager for Timeless Creations, Inc. steps in to give the details)

(Andy) “I asked Omri and Julie and they said they first went to Washington in March or April of ’07. So, with that as the beginning point, we are going to install sometime in April of ’09—this has been two years in the making.”

Are The Nationals involved in any way with your work? (SBF)

(Andy) “They are. I have been working with Frank Gambino (Lerner Enterprises Vice-President) a whole lot. And he is helping me sort out the sites and placements along with The DC Commission. They have been very helpful—as much as they can be—considering what we are doing.”

The bases for the statues, what are they made of?

(Andy) They are laser etched in granite and the copy is being written right now through Frank. Sean Gibson and Hank Thomas (Walter Johnson's Grand Son) have weighed in on what they would like the copy to read.
(Thomas Family Photo, Copyright Nats320)

Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Final question for Omri: When the statues are unveiled, or any unveiling for that matter, when you go to an unveiling of one of your works, what kind of feeling do you get out of it? (SBF)

“What I like to do is step aside and watch the crowd—that’s my fun. I want people to ignore everything else and just walk around and relate themselves to the pieces. I like to distance myself completely and watch them. When you unveil the form everything is so fresh. So objective judgment is almost useless, impossible. So, you give it time and see how it works. But mostly, I just like to see the reaction.”

“When Julie did the unveiling for The White Sox, it was really moving. The whole team came for the ceremony. And it was impressive to see how everyone was jumping all around. It’s fun to see that. This is our way of communication through the arts and the public and what we are doing with it.”

With those final words, My Conversation With Omri Amrany concluded. For nearly 90 minutes, Omri and Andy had taken the time to discuss with Nats320 the details about Timeless Creations Inc.'s work, and their efforts to honor three of Washington's Baseball Greats at Nationals Park in 2009. No one had sat down before to speak with Omri about his current efforts for The DC Commission for The Arts & Humanities.

And how very exciting to know they, along with The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities, were going to allow Nats320 to display some photos of The Statue Work In Progress for Fans of Our Washington Nationals.

Again, many thanks to Gloria Nauden, The Executive Director for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities who was very receptive to my original ideas for this conversation. And to Rachel Dickerson, The Arts In Public Places Manager for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities who made all the contacts, put Omri & Andy together with me while setting up the interview.

Finally, thanks to Andy Rotman-Zaid (Project Manager for Timeless Creations, Inc.) for his tireless efforts to assist in any way possible to make these posts happen--even while stuck in a snow storm and walking in snow shoes--IT's TRUE!!--and Funny--especially when he speed dialed me accidentally looking for directions--thinking he was talking to someone else. It was a great laugh!! And of course, Omri Amrany, who was as devoted and engaged in speaking with me for this chat as apparently he is with his everyday artwork. Omri really got into the discussion and I appreciated his enthusiasm--tremendously.

Hopefully, all of you, Our Nats320 Readers, enjoyed the interview and the working pictures of The Statues of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard.

(Hondo Photos--Copyright Nats320)

PS--Andy also told me that My Favorite Player Of All Time!!, Frank Howard, has been his usual self-deprecating self. "Hondo" has turned down all offers to come to The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany to see the works in progress. As usual, Frank Howard says he is touched anyone would consider "Honoring" him.

PSS--Just a reminder that all production photos are copyright protected:

Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Conversation With Omri Amrany

Unless otherwise noted: all photos are copyright protected by Timeless Creations, Inc. and The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany.

(Copyrights Timeless Creations, Inc.)

Michael Jordan, "Magic" Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Harry Caray and Gordie Howe--Icons of American Sport. Each a Hall of Famer in their own right. All of whom have been immortalized in bronze by Omri Amrany. Mr. Amrany, an Israeli-Born American Citizen, is a world renown artist. Well known for a plethora of work in various mediums, but especially those of Bronze Sculpture.

Teaming with his wife, Julie Rotblatt, Omri, runs The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany in Highwood, Illinois. A not for profit studio for artists in training to Master their crafts. Additionally, Ms. Rotblatt and Mr. Amrany operate Timeless Creations, Inc--the commercial side of their business--which includes bidding for commissions around The United States of America and abroad for Civic & Sport related artwork.

(Copyrights Timeless Creations, Inc.)

Over the years, both Julie & Omri have completed commissioned works honoring The Detroit Tigers, The Detroit Red Wings, The Green Bay Packers and even The Chicago White Sox, among many others-although sport related commissions are far from all they have been honored to produce. And I am happy to say I was personally familiar with much of their sports work.
Photo by ARZ for Timeless Creations, Inc. (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Which brings us all to the point of this two-part story. Omri Amrany and Timeless Creations, Inc. bid on and successfully won the rights to produce the three statues of Washington's Baseball Greats at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. Yes, Omri is producing all three of those much awaited bronze pieces of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard. The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities granted Mr. Amrany the contract to develop, produce and ultimately honor three of DC's Most Favored Baseball Son's in Centerfield Plaza at The South Capitol Street Ballpark. The induction ceremony to take place some time this coming Spring of 2009.

But I would imagine that most every fan of Our Washington Nationals has wanted to peek at, get a glimpse of, what might be in store for their baseball viewing pleasure come Year Two of Nationals Park. Well, I am also happy to write that everyone is going to get their first opportunity right here. Yes, thanks to Gloria Nauden, the Executive Director of The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities; Rachel Dickerson--The Arts In Public Places Manager for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities; Andy Rotman-Zaid, The Project Manager for Timeless Creations, Inc. and Omri Amrany himself, Nats320 is going to take a inside look at what's in store for all Washington Baseball Fans this coming year.

This effort was a long time coming and included a tremendous amount of background work on Nats320's part. No, this was no small task.

First, we begin with the in-depth look at Mr. Amrany. This is time to get to know your artist. The man granted the contract to honor Our Stars. A few weeks ago, Omri and I talked for some time on the phone in an interview set up by Ms. Dickerson. Andy Rotman-Zaid and I conversed on more than a couple of occasions, beforehand, to make sure everything worked out well. And have continued to stay in touch many times since. In fact, Andy provided most of the photos for this series--his assistance has been immeasurable. Fortunately, the timing couldn't have been better, as all three pieces of Johnson, Gibson and Howard are at a development stage where they are all beginning to come to life. But, I want to remind EVERYONE, no piece of artwork is fully completed until the unveiling. Throughout every step of the process, changes and modifications are being made to enhance the final work.

Today, in Part One, the conversation will be about Omri Amrany--his background, his thoughts, what he looks to accomplish each and every time he challenges himself on a work of art. Mr. Amrany is a very interesting man. We talked for nearly 90 minutes, both of us engaged in the chat.

Then, in Part Two, Omri & I will concentrate on his work of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard. At that time, pictures will be released, exclusively here on Nats320, for the first time showing the sculptures in progress. Unquestionably, everyone will get a good idea of what to expect in Centerfield Plaza at Nationals Park in 2009.

With all that background now behind us, here's Part One of My Conversation With Omri Amrany.

Let’s start with your background. I know you emigrated from Israel. How old are you and when did you first get to The United States? (SBF)

“I am 54 years old. I was born in a Kibbutz in Israel in the Jordan Valley, very close to the Jordanian Border—about four miles south of The Sea of Galilee—just below the Golan Heights. The first time I came to The United States was in 1987 to get married to Julie (Rotblatt). We got married here.”

Then you met in Israel? (SBF)

“No. We met in Italy. I was 32 years old in ’85 and the Kibbutz I lived in sent me to be trained in marble. That was my choice (of profession) because where we come from, the society from which we grew up in, you first asked what you could do for your country, then for your society, and then your family, and then yourself last—always. It’s the opposite of the Western Culture here. And there was no question that you have got to grow up--give the best service that you can, serve the community, and serve the country. I was five years in education all over the country (Israel) before I had the chance to go in and take carving lessons and courses on my own. So, by the time I had the chance to get education in carving marble, I was into my 30’s.”

You consider yourself self-taught in your profession, but obviously, you had to learn from others along the way. How has your artistry developed over the years? (SBF)

“Even if I say I grew up in a social community, The Kibbutz, I grew up with generations of artists on both sides of the family which had masters in different ways of art, whether that be tapestry, carving of wood or ceramics or cross-designs, paintings, etc. So, my real school was the family schooling me in many ways. That was the direct effort (of my upbringing), but those types of questions always have us (artists) contemplating in artistic discussions. How one became what he decided to become--this person. And what guided someone to became an artist or architect or pilot, or businessman or whatever.”

“I didn’t think I would become an artist because I grew up in a community where the most important thing was to be The CEO of The Kibbutz. So, my art was kind of a hobby in the evenings. If you could create art, that would be terrific, but it would be on your own time. In later days in our society, it’s was recognized, artists arrive new in America to be an artist. So, artists were given three days per week to do art—which was a luxury. How many artists in the world can have three pure days per week for their artwork? So, in a way, the community grew up into the depths of understanding that art in itself is a field you have to master and art was becoming more a part of our society.”

Which probably explains why you have artistic talents in so many different areas? Having looked over your work the past couple of days, you have classical items, contemporary works, some very avant-garde art, is all that due to the many different artists you have been exposed to? (SBF)

“I can divide that into different subjects. Throughout my life I have traveled in many places where I have met lots of people. And at one point in time, I wanted to be a student of Salvador Dali. It was kind of a wish (on my part) that I almost fulfilled. Maybe it’s good it did not happen, maybe not. Or the chance I had to live in Italy for a year—adopted by a Master of the carving stone world. That was tremendous in itself because what I learned from him was to “Breathe & Smell” the marble. Throughout my life, I have introduced to myself new technology in the arts—like a Master in The Arts that came from Moscow to Tel-Aviv. Every single time I went to meet someone wanting to become a student—they always said you have done so much work already—why don’t you do it on your own? And just show us what you are doing? And this almost became a way of doing things.”

“The other subject I can tell you is I firmly believe art is a chain of experiments that’s mission is to extend the human link of knowledge. Therefore, if we are falling into the safety of doing the same old thing, we are creating “Dead Art” that already no longer exists. It’s like a fractal that is always in motion. And because of this, artists throughout their lives always must be a scholar and continue to investigate, explore and experiment because if you don’t, you end up doing the same old, same old. Therefore, I am dealing with methodology, with electro-forming and casting. We deal with the stone age—carving different stones through laser and granite. We are dealing with paintings, wall tapestries, with drawings and laser effects. We try to go in all directions.”

You mentioned something earlier that caught my attention. When you went to Italy to study you learned to “smell the marble”. I find that to be an interesting quote from someone who likes to be close to his projects? (SBF)

“We lived 13 hours per day, seven days per week, even on Sundays, I use to sneak into the studio and work on my own quietly. Because I knew I only had one year. After that, I had to go back to the farm (in Israel). So, I knew I had only one year. A year-long clock was in my brain ticking. At the end of the year, that would be it, so I lived with them. I worked with them. I went with them to the quarry to search for the marble. I learned how the stone behaved—down to the very last micro effect I could learn from that experience.”

When did it hit you that you would become an artist and it wouldn’t be a hobby on the side? It would become your life’s blood? (SBF)

“It happened a little bit after Italy. I went back to the Kibbutz, to the social community and I realized it was an end of an era and it was never going to be the same. This community is going to change into something that historically would never be the same. Well, I said, now I am on my own—what shall I do. And that’s when I became an artist.”
(Copyright, Timeless Creation Inc.)

“One of your questions referred to where are you heading to? (There was a pre-interview before the actual phone chat. A get to know each other conversation-SBF) And for the last five years, what has really bugged me is how to advance the art using laser concepts into different elements—mostly based on mathematical functions. They are called fractals after Professor Benoit Mandelbrot, which is something that really began to roll in the ‘70’s and has very much influenced my art. And as you can see in some of the sculptures you mentioned, like Willie Horton (of The Detroit Tigers) and Ty Cobb and Frank Howard, the motion effect all comes from the 4th Dimension of Motion and slight changes which represent a lot of the images in fractals.”

Whether it’s painting, sculpture, drawing, tapestry, what have you, I get from talking to you is that your challenge comes from pushing yourself to do something more different and better than the last time? (SBF)
(Copyright, Timeless Creation Inc.)

“Let me give you an example. I use to know a guy who has now passed away. A Mr. George Kramer who was a Vietnam Vet and who served as the Dean of The Art Department at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. At one time, we started to work on fractal geometry. And the question was whether we can use mathematical functions to develop (not just) level forms, but forms in which we can master. This is the cutting edge. I am doing this from my point of imagination as an artist. But by doing that, I know today that I don’t have to carve a granite. I can do any monumental piece with a laser. I can even sculpt with a laser. I don’t have to sculpt anymore with clay.”

“If we could push Michelangelo or Leonardo DeVinci today, would we be wasting their time today to paint a canvas or carve a marble, when they can do everything with a computer? I don’t know. Maybe so, maybe not. I still love to carve marble, but I want to use all the elements like the laser, the computer and the mathematical codes. I want to push the limits to the maximum—that is what I want to do.”

When you are challenging yourself to improve and create something different, how has the response been to that work? (SBF)
(Copyright, The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany)

“I will give you an example. In 1990, a year after we came (to America), I came to work on a sculpture called “Against The Wind”. It’s a sculpture of Dionisio Ceron--a Mexican marathon runner, a four-time world champion. After I sculpted the figure, I sculpted over a figure of leaves and eliminated the figure. Basically, I just left the leaves creating and representing the human form—you can see the human form through the leaves. Then, I went into experimenting with electroforming, which nobody in Chicago had ever heard of before. It was a terrible experiment, because everything collapsed and in the end we had to bond it, build it back up and put it in a show. I felt I had created the motion, the spirit, the spirit against the wind. In Hebrew, spirit is “ruach” (to breathe, air). The wind is “ruach”. It’s the same forces—the spirit against the wind that you represent in the art. And I called this: beyond the 4th Dimension—a Spiritual Dimension.”

“Everybody came to this show, looked at the piece and said: ‘Very nice.’ But nobody bought anything. After four years, I sold four pieces; one in Belgium and three in Chicago. The bottom line here is that we have been introduced to a electroforming manufacturer in Chicago that fell in love with our concept. They have already developed the process using plating elements—which goes beyond the original bronze casting. It’s a different form of plating and methodology. This company started to work with us in experiments and one day they took all of our photos and went to a manufacturer’s competition and ended up getting projects for helicopters for The U.S. Air Force. He showed (The Government) the work of the artists, us. And that’s how you see how positive forethought by an artist, even though society may look at you and say he’s a loony bin--suddenly comes to be recognized by just winning this little competition and helps create a principal manufacturing process in business. That is why I look at things in the form of what is the artists part to integrate and link into the human culture.”

It’s to be a part of life, not just passing through it? (SBF)

“Yes, exactly right.”

When you finally got involved in producing sports figures, is that an aspect of your profession you ever thought you would be involved in? (SBF)
(Copyright, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“Well sport is a part of life, I think one of the strongest elements that intrigued me coming to The United States and becoming a U.S. Citizens—if you look at World War II—this country was in a depression and used all their elements to create sports around which people would follow as a part of their lives. They became the fans of the sports, much like today. But back then, it meant a whole lot more to their lives. Every kid was in the sports field. They played the game. What you have here is a Western Society that in an ordinary way would not master the physical unless they were doing sport."

“I believe that the culture of sport was a massive power and influence which allowed this government to harness tens of millions of people to become so strong overnight--instead of just worrying about the daily survival. Sport was a very strong, spiritual engine, which helped create this. Just like when you look back into ancient times, like The Spartans, like Greece, in the same way. Now, I did not come from a sport culture, but the spirit in the sport always pulled me toward it. One day, in The Kibbutz, I walked to the lunchroom and I saw one of my friends sitting there with a sport magazine. I grabbed the magazine from him and said I need this. He looked at me as if I was nuts. ‘I thought you were not interested in sport at all?’ No, I need this photo on the front. I am going to use it in the artwork. ‘OK,’ he says. ‘But let me finish the magazine and I will give it back to you.’ So, I eventually took this photo and I put it into sandblasted plywood. I created this psychological form of energy of a soccer player on a form of plywood that only by allowing oneself to reach into the form—can you create such a spiritual element that no one else might see. Yes, we did sport. We sculpted sport before we came to The United States in a different way. But, when we went to The Chicago Bulls, the first thing that Michael (Jordan) asked us was: ‘Can you do this sculpture?’ So, I shoved in his face a photograph that I carved of the same size piece in marble. ‘See, we did this in marble! To sculpt you in clay will be no problem.’”
(Copyright, Timeless Creation Inc.)

That story does fit well into your belief you blend philosophy, elements and technique to create something in your mind. (SBF)

“Yes, I think it is all blended into some kind of Rubik Cube of Life.”

So, if you are constantly challenging yourself, doing different and more creative work, and I would take from our talk so far you are someone that would test any boundary—are you always happy with your work? (SBF)

“Am I always happy with my work? No, not always. But mostly, I will try to push myself to the maximum. That’s a very good question. When I do my personal artwork, I may not finish it and the public will never see it. But I push the limits. I push the envelope to the limit. And it’s also one of the biggest complaints I get—from the manufacturer--the foundry, the electroformer, anytime that we push the limits. Julie and I push to the max for everything we create. It sometimes makes it very difficult for one side, but the reason why so many sport teams fell in love with our work is because when they look—our pieces Fly The Best."

(Copyrights, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

"They don’t try to understand the details and the elements. When they see “Magic” Johnson at 45 degree angle or Michael Jordan barely attached to the pedestal, or Wilt Chamberlain with a dipping effect--what they see is the recognized form and the energy. Take Gordie Howe in an 80 degrees tilt, which you don’t know how it’s attached, because it appears to be floating above the ice. If you look at the piece, you don’t see any attachment to the base.”

Is it difficult then to produce sport artwork in your style? (SBF)

“No, it’s not difficult. The difficulty is when you have to create a Korean War Vet who had to go through what they went through in Korea (in the early 1950’s), or Vietnam Vet. You have to face them. You have to listen to them. You have to be with them. And you have to create something compelling. That is very, very difficult.”
(Copyright Timeless Creations, Inc.)

Then I would take it that your American Legion Memorial Piece in Highland Park, Illinois—you feel the same way about that too? (SBF)

(Copyrights, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“I would say The American Legion piece. I would say the Community Veteran’s Memorial located in Munster, Indiana—which we worked on for one year where we worked with a team from nearly every war (was the most difficult). The only vets not still alive were from The Great War (World War I). So we interviewed people who knew those that fought in The Great War and listened to them. But we worked with those people from Munster, Indiana and we created with them and together their vision of the artwork. We insisted we were not artists who came down from Olympus and tell them what is good and what is bad. What is black and what is white. We are coming to listen to you. We ended up designing this park on a repetitive fractal effect down to the most minuscule of bases. We looked at this project as the macro and the micro—which represents most of our projects. You can see how the mega-size is combined with the microscopic for quality—which is something we never give up on.”

Every project has its challenges and difficulties—does that sometimes take away from the fun? Or, are those challenges and difficulties what give you the enjoyment? (SBF)

“I think the least challenging of the process is sculpting someone standing still.”

Well that goes back to what you said earlier how you just don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. You always want to produce something different—something that is a little more out there, if you will. (SBF)

“Again, think of it in the way that I wish. That every person like you is going to be the extension of the link in the chain, or at least the extension in the link of my artwork. But that is impossible, otherwise, how would you create the cubism, impressionism, or surrealism. You have to do similar things to represent the concept. I call it Sculpting Montage.”

You’ve mentioned your partner and wife, Julie, a couple of times now. How important is that relationship to your work, as you have built yourself as an artist? (SBF)

“Julie and I met in Italy, grew up in the same studio when it was the end of the 20’s for her and the beginning of the 30’s for me. We worked on a lot of projects together and we influenced each other—both as artists and as husband and wife and in our values, etc. etc. The integration there is enormous. The influence there is enormous. And some people like to sit down around the bar and have a beer, chat about ideas and that’s how they say artists in Europe created the movement. But that can also be the case between husband and wife, so they can work together and do things. Julie has done some great pieces like the Chicago Bears, The Championship Piece for The Chicago White Sox and many others. Also, she has produced some very emotional paintings like in Evanston (Illinois) for a cancer center. She’s done very spiritual pieces in different medium.”

Once you’ve completed an artwork, what kind of feelings do you get out of watching others enjoy, whether that’s at an unveiling or over a period of time? (SBF)

“I have a piece here that I recently finished. It’s a sculpture from one of the models we had in one of my classes from five years ago. And it took me about three years to finish the piece and turn it into leaves and butterflies. It’s a sculpting montage called “Daydreamer”. You look at this and she is sort of looking up at the sky, with the butterflies flying away like a dream. I had people coming here (to his studio), sitting down, and looking at this work and start crying. How many examples like this can you see? And this is not a negative piece.”

Speaking of negative pieces, do you tend to shy away from negative pieces as an artist? (SBF)

“Not at all. I have some very provocative pieces and one of them I am actually finishing the drawing for and am preparing to do that one in bronze. This piece is very political, it’s not negative. I have done some very strong political pieces because after 1982 I joined the “Peace Now” Movement in Israel and tried to integrate conversations between Palestinians and Israelis. In many ways, I realized we were going in the wrong direction on all sides. At a point in time, we were offered to join into the politics in Israel and we were offered to join with one of the Knesset Members to become his loyal team to work with him in the government. And in that moment, I had the chance to be in the first person—wait a minute, you are an artist—you are a philosopher—you want to give up the freedom of saying what you mean and you believe in and become a politician—Forget It!” (Chuckling)

(Copyrights, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

I enjoy the fact that you put motion into your statues, whether it’s Willie Horton, The Detroit Red Wings, Ty Cobb’s dirt flying up when he’s sliding into third base. Have you found people like that style as well? (SBF)

“I started to use this style in 1987 in a different way. And I have gone more and more into pushing that style based on learning more about it. When you put the mathematical codes into the computer, suddenly you see those images coming out at you. They are starting to move and it’s like: ‘Wow! We found it! The Codes for The Universe.’ So with every piece I am doing, I am looking at fractals and take their repetitive motions and use it in the piece. That’s in fact, what I am doing with this provocative political piece I am doing right now. Four years ago I saw a photo of one piece, sculpted by Richard McDonald, that resembles a beautiful motion of a golfer. I sold some pieces from the early 90’s for commercial purposes, which had motion. Since I keep searching, I find more artists that did it in the past or started to experiment with it. Of course, there is always the wish to continue. For me, from the time I started to montage or blend the elements of sculpture motion forward to create the 4th dimension, I haven’t turned back. And since I came back from Italy in ’86 and ’87, this has become one major spine at what I am going to do forever—advancing with different technologies and different concepts.”

That concludes Part One of My Conversation With Omri Amrany. Hopefully, you now have come to know Mr. Amrany and his work. Because tomorrow in Part Two, The Final Chapter With Omri Amrany will include exclusive photos of The Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard Statues in production by Timeless Creations, Inc.

And before you go, here's one sample--Josh Gibson's Headsculpt (In Progress Work):

Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany,
Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Note on Fractal: A fractal is generally "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-similarity. The term was coined by BenoƮt Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning "broken" or "fractured." A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that undergoes iteration, a form of feedback based on recursion.