February 8-9, 2014
By Sean Flynn Staff writer, The Newport Daily News
The work of Newport artist Howard Newman will be featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s upcoming exhibition, “Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection,” which will run from Feb. 28-Aug. 17.
During the 1970s and ’80s, Newman had solo exhibits at New York’s Cordier and Ekstrom Gallery, and Roby was one of the buyers of his work. After she died, the Smithsonian in 1986 acquired her art collection, which included three of Newman’s sculptures and a painting.
“This is the first time they have made a formal exposition of selected pieces from the Roby bequest,” Newman said. The pieces have been on exhibit before. but not as a dedicated exhibit.”
Newman’s piece, “Half Woman, Quarter Bird,” a 30-inch bronze sculpture he completed in 1974, will be featured in the exhibit.
His artwork comes from a tradition dating back to the early 20th century, plied by artists such as Austrian painter Egon Schiele and Spanish painter Joan Miro, with a touch of surrealism and drawing from the subconscious.
“My sculptures come out of dreams and they evolve,” Newman said.
During his long career, his work has been acclaimed by art critics. Hilton Kramer, a critic with The New York Times, wrote in the 1970s:””Howard Newman brings an impressive mastery to the genre of the abstract surrealist object … an imagery at once macabre and exalted…the sheer rhythmic play of the curved surfaces give the work an extraordinary visual power.”
His work also is well known to Newport residents. His bronze sculptures “Torso #1” and “Female Torso (Birth Series)” are installed on the grounds of the Newport Art Museum.
His studio and business, Newmans Ltd., is located on Farewell Street, where he continues to create paintings and sculpture, perform historic restoration of bronze and metal objects and develop patents of his inventions.
Newman’s work is in many locations around Aquidneck Island. For example, he and his wife, Mary, restored the entire collection of metal objects in Touro Synagogue when the synagogue was restored in 2005-06.
Newman collected pictures of the historic horse trough that was on Washington Square, which was fed by a fountain and topped by a lantern, from the archives of the Newport Historical Society. Using digital technology, he analyzed the photographs and made the drawings necessary to recreate that details of the trough, which he cast in bronze and re-installed on Washington Square in 2008-09.
Newman also was hired in 2008-09 to restore “Trinity,” an abstract sculpture that shimmers above the altar at the Church of St. Gregory the Great at Portsmouth Abbey. Richard Lippold used about 4 miles of gold-plated wires in 1961 when he created an abstract sculpture that includes an array of wires that soars over visitors in the nave of the church.
After almost five decades, the wires were so corroded and cracked that the integrity of the artwork was threatened. The Newmans were hired to save it. They were faced with the challenge of replacing all that wire without altering the character of the original artwork. They had to dismantle, in sections, what might seem like a giant spider web that spans 12,000 cubic feet and put it back up in its original position.
“It was like making art, only backwards,” Howard Newman said at the time.
Among their many other projects outside the area, the Newmans restored the entire 10,000-pound, 19th century shelving system of The Pequot Library stacks in Southport, Conn., more than a decade ago. They did that work in the building that is now the Jamestown Arts Center.
Born in Elizabeth, N.J ., Howard New· man studied architecture at Miami University in Ohio in 1961-63 and remembers designing a self-sustaining moon station five years after the Russians sent Sputnik into orbit, beginning the space race.
“I woke up one night and thought, ‘I don’t want to do this, I want a liberal art education.’ I think you should get a broad education and then a detailed education on how to do one thing well,” he said.
He received a degree in anthropology from Miami University, which is where he met his future wife, Mary. The couple went through training to become Peace Corps volunteers and then worked as VISTA volunteers in New York City. Newman recalls doing legal aide work, but decided he was happiest working with his hands.
He entered the Rhode Island School of Design, where he met Tom Benson of New· port and through him became acquainted with the city. The Newmans bought their Newport home in the mid-1970s.
“I was trained as a silversmith at RISD,” he said. “I wanted to work in a bigger world, so I work in bronze.”
Newman received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Italy in 1971-72, and he and Mary lived in a 16th century farmhouse in Impruneta outside Florence, where he could develop his sculpturing skills. They returned to Italy for another year in 1985- 86 and lived in Pietrasanta, north of Pisa.
“The town is to sculpture what Newport is to sailing,” Newman said. “There are nine art foundries and 50 marble sheds there. Sculptors from all over the world go there.”
He worked in a foundry there, creating the two pieces at the Newport Art Museum and six other sculptures. After returning to the U.S., the sculptures and a series of his paintings were shown in an exhibit at the Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer gallery in New York.
Newman remains busy. He is currently creating a bronze fountain for Decatur Square in Providence, through the West Broadway Neighborhood Association there. The Rhode Island Archive Project through Holly Gaboriault is collecting film of his art creations and projects and interviewing him for storage video archives. The crew began the project by selecting 14 artists in the state.
His creativity takes him in all kinds of directions. He and attorney Len Katzman of Portsmouth are partners in a business called Sigma Surfacing LLC, an intellectual properties venture. They have patented Newman’s hinge system invention for thick yoga mats that allow the mats to be folded easily and stored. They are working on patenting two other Newman inventions, a new way of resurfacing metals as well as an innovative way to put roofs and sidings on houses.
How does he find time to do all this? “I don’t commute,” he answered with a smile in his Newport studio. “I spend all my time here.”