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Graceful figures: the nurturing bond of family love is shaped by this critically acclaimed sculptor.

Graceful Figures

Inspired by her study of dance and of painting as a child, Esther Wertheimer always knew she would have a career in the arts. What she didn't know was just how many accolades would follow.

Critical acclaim and awards have been heaped on Esther for her graceful and vibrant sculptures displayed in museums, in the gardens of restaurants and corporate buildings, and in private collections, as well as exhibited at galleries around the world.

But success hasn't come without problems; Esther developed osteoarthritis in her hands. "Sculpting details can be difficult at times, and I now find that I work much longer to complete a sculpture," says Esther. Still, she refuses to be discouraged.

At first, though, she was unsettled by her decrease in productivity, but eventually the slowdown yielded a positive side effect: "It changed my sculpture," Esther admits. "Before, my work had been much rougher."

Now, because she can't flex her fingers or use her fingernails as much as she once could, Esther refines her work with sculpting instruments. "The sculpting has become a slow, deliberate process, which seems to be giving my finished work a new softness," she says.

Esther's talent was recognized early. While a student at the School of Fine Arts in Montreal, she was encouraged to continue her studies at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School, where she was a student for five years.

In 1957, Esther established a leather goods manufacturing company, which developed into a lucrative enterprise. She also continued to draw, paint and sculpt as well as to conduct art classes in her home studio.

Esther's experiences led her to establish a fine arts department at Loyola College in Montreal in 1970. There she served as an instructor for the next four years. In 1975, she earned a master's degree in art history at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt.

Esther began sculpting in earnest in 1967, when she received a scholarship from the Italian government and grants from two Canadian entities to study at the Academia di Belle Arte in Florence. At first Esther sculpted busts of famous people; eventually, however, she switched to the graceful figures of dancers, many of which brought her praise and honors.

But Esther's maternal instinct -- transformed in her bronze and polished steel sculptures which revolve around motherhood, fatherhood and family -- are what seem to touch the lives of so many. "The family is the nucleus of civilization," says Esther. "For me, sculpting parents and children is most natural.

"Although my own children are now adults, I think of them when I sculpt," says Esther. "They are always with me in spirit, and I want to convey that happiness -- the delight a child can give a parent, and vice versa."

These emotions are reflected in her Madre Con Bambino in Circolo -- the circle, an unending symbol of strength and solidarity, represents complete happiness. The joy of parenting also is depicted in Madre Con Bambino Gambe Incrociate and Airborne, in which a mother exultantly lifts her infant above her head.

After completing several mother-child pieces, Esther was prompted by a friend's suggestion to create sculptures that focused on the bond between father and child, the essence of paternal pride and playfulness. This nurturing paternal relationship is explored in pieces such as First Step, in which father and child form a circle as the child takes its first step.

The elongated forms of Esther's sculpture explode with energy and optimism. Her work embodies the interlocking of man as the pillar of strength, of woman as the source of hope and contentment, and of the child as the bond that completes the union.

Her figures are as popular abroad as in the United States and Canada. She recently held an overwhelmingly successful exhibition at a gallery in Japan, and while there the directors of the Rodin 3rd National Sculpture Competition purchased Caftan -- her large sculpture of a woman wearing a flowing robe.

When not traveling, Esther divides her time between her homes in Montreal and Boca Raton, Fla., where she teaches sculpting at a senior citizens center. In 1988 she was honored for her contributions to the arts and education by the South Palm Beach chapter of the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT).

Esther says her Florida home, a necessary part of her well-being, enables her to create in "a relaxing and beautiful environment." There she works with wax, clay and other malleable material. "When I have clay or wax in my hands," she says, "I'm able to take something from nothing and give it life. It gives me a feeling of great power within."

Persistent, assertive and ever optimistic, Esther thrives on challenge. If someone tells her something can't be done, she'll search for a way to do it. As she puts it, "There are no problems in life, only solutions."

Roberta Sandler is a freelance writer based in Wellington, Fla.
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Title Annotation:Esther Wertheimer
Author:Sandler, Roberta
Publication:Arthritis Today
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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