At 98, Manuel Bromberg won’t give an inch

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

“We came back to Woodstock, it was 1956, 1957, somewhere in there. At that time they were voting on the Woodstock Elementary School, whether it should be part of the Onteora system. Some of my old friends who were still around, urged us to vote. So we went and voted to tie in with Onteora. The people who had put up the money for the Woodstock School, Delisios, Schwartzes, who were Republicans, wanted the town to control it. So there was this big protest by them saying I was just a summer visitor. Here I was one of the three World War II Woodstock veterans, they didn’t have a leg to stand on. We bought the house behind the Episcopal church [St. Gregory’s] that was also owned by an artist, Paul Burlin, and was built by Mrs. Wardwell. That’s where Mrs. Roosevelt came and had dinner and stayed with us before she gave her lecture (to the Woodstock Elementary PTA in February, 1959). Jane made dinner.”

How do you make a sculpture of a cliff?

“At first, I was going to do this thing in cement. But weight is a problem. Weight is one of the things I have often discussed with Bucky Fuller, we were friends…How am I going to do this? Wherever I do it, that’s where it would have to stay.

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Manuel Bromberg, Ashokan, 2009. Fiberglass, polyester resin, wax, marble dust. 4’6” x 5’7”.

Manuel Bromberg, Ashokan, 2009. Fiberglass, polyester resin, wax, marble dust. 4’6” x 5’7”.

“I was supposed to do what I did in North Carolina, but the plaster wouldn’t hold up, there was an open entranceway [where it was to be placed on the New Paltz campus] and it could get rained on…so I couldn’t use plaster. I even went to Mexico to see if there was some way to do cement and reduce the weight. No help, nothing. So I come back to Woodstock. I have a friend nearby who is general manager of a cement plant in Cementon. So I go there an talk with him.

“He says, there’s a guy who has something about reducing weight…and he’s in Palenville. So I go to Palenville and suddenly I meet a guy, a marvelous craftsman, Randy Madlen, who has a Fuller dome…and we strike it off right away. This is how things get born. Chance, right? From there, I’m asking him about a tool, a blower, but it isn’t going to reduce the weight. But I’m surrounded by all his projects and they’re all in plastic. So I said to him, Randy, do you suppose we could spray plastic on a cliff? And he says, I don’t see why not.

“I still don’t know what I’m getting into. But with the kind of abandon that I have…maybe it was the war, but I can walk away from a mural commission, accept a design and throw myself into it and beat the shit out of a wall without knowing what the results is going to be…what is that? All I am is alienated.

“But we found the cliff, and now this process begins…how do you get up a cliff, you have to get up high…on my way to the site I had noticed on 23A just before you turn on to the road, there’s a tree cutting place, and I had seen parked there a cherry picker owned by Mike Schovel, who was highway super then. I drive in there and talk to this wonderful guy.” Schovel tells him that he only uses his cherry picker on certain days, and that Bromberg is free to use it.

“So now I’ve got a set up where I drive to his place, park my VW, get in this big cherry picker and drive it to the site. I’m getting set.”

Randy explains to Bromberg that the rubber urethane will be sprayed over the whole surface “the thickness of a stick of chewing gum.” But Randy’s supplier in New Jersey likes the idea and contributes $3000 worth of material.

“When you’re up there, there are all these ruggedy forms and great crevices,” he says. “Once I have the cliff coated with this tiny little rubber thing, which has all the information of all the wrinkles, all the cracks, all the ins and outs are in the form, then you back it up with a form that will allow you to see how the cliff is moving.”

The next step, Bromberg says, is to stuff up all the cracks, back it up with a form and then spray the whole thing with a yellow colored foam

“You’re up on a cherry picker, 20 feet. Big huge cliff, bigger than this entire house, becoming yellow. And the foam covers the area that I’ve done for the sculpture piece, at least 26 feet high. At this point we’re ready, we’ve got everything we need from the cliff. “Of course then you have to take everything down. But everything has to be absolutely related. I have a butcher knife, and I cut an area I can handle, and I hand it down to somebody on the ladder. But I have code marks on the piece, to fit it together.”

They take it down from the cliff and bring it back to the plant in Palenville, piece it back together on a round form that has been built, and spray it with plastic.

“It’s a little far away from what one does in the studio or a Sunday painter, or somebody who gets up in the morning and has a brilliant idea…”

Then it has to be carefully marked and dismantled so it can be removed, trucked to New Paltz and reassembled exactly.

“Martin Luther King Jr. died just as the piece was finished,” Bromberg says. “I was struck by this because I happen to believe he was a great man, and I dedicated it to him. There was a site in New Paltz for him.

There are 3 comments

  1. NYArtist

    I remember Manny walking the halls of the New Paltz art department in the early 1960’s. What a great presence he had. We all felt the deepest respect for him…he was a striking individual, confident, amazing energy, bold, confident…we were a small, intimate art group of students and professors..catching music and beer at Spinelli’s or The Homestead or P&G..wild parties on Butterville Road and Ray Flynn’s place…so many special artists and professors…Manny..you may not remember each of us from back then but we will never forget you…and we absolutely love you and always will…

  2. Michael Coleman

    Manny was wonderful as a teacher. In critiques he did not destroy
    you but rather offered a surprising alternative to what you were
    doing if it was wrong. He taught a student how to learn to be a painter
    from the inside out. He was frank too and make us laugh. He stays
    with me today when I paint.

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