Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Artists of Lanesville - GEORGE DEMETRIOS

This excerpt is from A Village at Lane's Cove by Barbara H Erkkila recently reprinted and available through Ten Pound Island Book Company. Barbara was the best chronicler of Lanesville and also authored the book Hammers on Stone-The History of Cape Ann Granite available in bookshops around Rockport and Gloucester, and The Cape Ann Museum giftshop.

The late sculptor George Demetrios of Folly Cove came to Lanesville to study under Charles Grafly at Folly Cove, but as soon as he won two traveling scholarships from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he went to Europe. He remained a lifelong friend of Mr. Grafly, sharing his studio in later years. Mr. Demetrios’ wife, the late Virginia Lee Burton, was a creator of illustrated children’s books and founder of the Folly Cove Designers.

George Demetrios was born in Macedonia in 1896 in the village of Pyrgoi. He died at the age of seventy-eight in December of 1974. Reading about Abraham Lincoln in school set him on the track for America and he sailed to Boston in 1911. His first job, after casting out the prospect of dish washing, was as a shoeshine boy on Washington Street in Boston at the Hotel Avery. He netted about five dollars a week working fourteen hours a day, eighteen on Saturday and six on Sunday.

It didn’t take young Demetrios long to learn English, for he was already fluent in Greek, French, Turkish, and Slav Macedonian, an unwritten language. He traded lessons with an Englishman named Alfred Hurbers, in English and Greek, using French as their communication language. This Mr. Demetrios often referred to as “linguistic pandemonium” and the reason he spoke with a British accent.

Before long George Demetrios was working on the Boston Herald where he could do art work. Two years later, he was attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He had made the jump successfully from Greek immigrant boy to student of sculpture.
For seven years he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and as an assistant to Antoine Bardelle in Paris. Then he returned to Boston to teach at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts school. He married Virginia Lee Burton in the spring of 1931. They lived for a while in Lincoln, Massachusetts before coming to Folly Cove.

In 1945 the sculptor was commissioned by the US Army Chemical Warfare Service to work with the laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to find ten heads which would be typical of all the GIs in the nation. The lab had conducted a survey and presented the results to the artist for his opinion. Mr. Demetrios then sculpted ten bronze heads, five normal and five unusual. From all of these, gas masks were developed in sizes, resulting finally in a single mask to fit any one of the ten.

In January 1949 Doll & Richards Gallery in Boston presented an exhibit by Mr. Demetrios. His works in bronze were: “A Merry Carpenter,” “Finnish Child,” “Laura,” “Stonecutter,” “A Dreamer,” “The Prayer,” “Fred” and “A Greek Woman.” Other works were: “Old Pete,” in terra cotta, matte glaze; “Victory,” terra cotta, majolica; “Smalley Memorial,” “Ben Stad Memorial,” “A Hypocrite” and “A Communist” in plaster. There were also reliefs in terra cotta and direct line drawings of the nude, a technique for which Demetrios became famous.

Mr. Demetrios won the Thomas R. Proctor prize for the best portrait in sculpture in 1950 at the National Academy of Design’s 125th anniversary exhibition in New York. It was a bronze head of a boy entitled “A Dreamer” which he had exhibited the year before, posed by his older son, Aristides, called Aris.

The sculptor once said, “To me, the only artist is the independent artist, whose function in life is to contribute a perception of the times in which he lives, in the only international language in the world; namely, understandable art by all.” In his fiery manner, tossing his words out quickly while his brown eyes sparkled, Mr. Demetrios encouraged his drawing classes: “Do the whole thing at once, but with a motive, not just a fact.”

The portrait of “Old Finlander” won a prize when it was submitted to the National Academy of Design in 1955 during the 130th Annual Exhibition. The late Peter Gronblad of Lane’s Cove, himself a second generation Finn, had posed for the sculptor.

A major work was dedicated in Kansas City, Missouri, in August of 1959. It was a sixteen-foot bas-relief dramatically portraying Moses with the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, “Atop Mount Sinai,” a bronze figure set in a red brick Wall of the Reform Jewish Synagogue of Congregation B’nai Jehudah. Mr. Demetrios spent two years on the work and journeyed to Italy where he could personally supervise the casting. He also completed a sculpture, “Let There Be Light,” for the synagogue’s chapel.

Mr. Demetrios was intrigued with what he called the “ironies of life,” and made many sketches to illustrate them: “Gadgets,” “Lipstick Mania,” “Early Spring,” “Technocracy,” “Business and Art in America,” “Modern Freedom,” “Politico-hypnosis” and “Swing Your Partner.”

When their house was moved farther back from the road, the Demetrios family had space to allow sheep to graze and the sculptor began an extensive garden. In September of 1947, a short circuit in wiring caused a bad fire at their home. They lost not only most of their clothes, but Mr. Demetrios suffered the loss of 120 drawings that he had been preparing for a new book. Neighbors helped carry out all they could from his work room.

When the fire started, the sculptor was in his own studio nearby, suddenly alerted by the sound of crackling. The family was promptly invited to stay at the Manship summer home until its own was again in order.

During the war years, when materials for sculpture were sharply curtailed, Mr. Demetrios became interested in experiments by Professor Frederick H. Norton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who lived on the Dennison Farm, Revere Street. He had been experimenting with a new terra cotta clay that had strength, fine texture and was virtually non-shrinking. Several casts were possible from one set of molds and this quality appealed to sculptors everywhere. For a long while, Mr. Demetrios tried using an electric kiln installed in his home studio.

In 1967 Mr. Demetrios finished a figure he called “Homage to JFK,” and in 1968, together with Walker Hancock, he was awarded the 75th Anniversary Medal of the National Sculpture Society. The bronze medal is given to a sculptor who has attained outstanding achievement.

Mr. Demetrios was often praised for his storyteller’s humor, no doubt arising from his first book, When Greek Meets Greek, published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1947 and illustrated with his own line drawings. Ted Ashby of the Boston Globe once wrote of Demetrios, calling him a dynamic and faultless technician: “He arrived here, spoke no English; four years later he was declared a genius." directory