In some ways, he sounds a lot like Indiana Jones. John Tedeschi, a physician in Robbinsville, has lived in a monastery, spent time in the jungles of India, climbed pyramids in Egypt, and is a licensed pilot. With his upcoming show at Holsome Gallery in Princeton, opening with a reception on Saturday, October 22, he now adds artist to his resume.
Tedeschi, 52, whose family and geriatric practice is located in Robbinsville, practices what is known as complementary medicine, combining modern medicine with natural remedies to treat the body, mind, and spirit. "I don’t believe that medicine is a science; it’s not a cookbook. With my patients, I try to feel their pain, because you have to feel someone’s suffering to understand how to diagnose. It could be emotional or the fact that they are not connecting with their spirituality. Isn’t that a doctor’s responsibility – to connect patients with their soul and their body?"
"Medicine is my profession but art is my life. This is something that flows through me," says Tedeschi, who has had no formal training in art.
Born in Patterson and raised in Bergen County, Tedeschi received a bachelor of science in biology and chemistry in 1974 from Fairleigh Dickinson and his medical degree, as an international student at the United Nations, from St. George’s University in Grenada in 1982. Tedeschi’s father, Carmen, was a builder and carpenter, and later a boxing promoter. His mother, Nicoletta, was a homemaker; both are now deceased.
"He was a good man," Tedeschi says of his father. "I remember as a kid going into Patterson at Christmas to buy toys to give to kids in the city." Tedeschi’s father died at the age of 47 when John was just 14, but left a lasting impression. In addition to promoting fights for such famous boxers as Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, and Nino Benvenutti, the older Tedeschi was, in his younger days, a New Jersey Golden Skates champion – a form of ballroom dancing performed on roller skates. As a young man, Tedeschi’s father sold his skates to raise enough money to marry Tedeschi’s mother.
Never having attended art school, Tedeschi believes his talent comes from God. "It’s not me doing this, so there’s no anxiety, no stress. It’s just a gift. All of my art is an inspiration. I know there’s an aspect of God in each one of us. And we have to use the gifts that He has given us. We can’t hide them."
Anyone curious how to create art using only a knife and fork will want to see the centerpiece of Tedeschi’s exhibit, "May Death Not Do Us Part." His fifth sculpture to date, it is an adaptation of an inspirational dream and the first of three installments, the other two of which are unfolding. "I don’t use many tools; I sculpt with a knife and fork. I start with an inspiration, but once I look at the clay, the position comes out of the clay itself. In this piece, the elbow of the man showed itself. However, when I’m working with marble, you can feel what’s already in there."
Working quickly with roma plastina to capture the essence of his dream, Tedeschi finished the piece in just six hours. At the Sculpture House in Manhattan where it was bronzed, they thought it took years.
Tedeschi, who lives in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Sheree (they have four grown daughters and three grandchildren), says that "May Death Not Do Us Part" has been interpreted differently by everyone who has seen it. "If you look at this piece, the left arm of the man is the cross, his right leg comes out of the base of the cross. One of the woman’s legs comes out of the same cross, and both of the figures carry their own cross. They are bound together by a vine. They could be husband and wife; they could be anyone. On the far right hand is a dove with its wings spread. I believe that life is eternal. Love doesn’t end with death. Love is enduring and timeless. And, we all carry our own cross.
"Art is purely subjective and I think that’s the beauty of this piece. There have been so many different interpretations of it. My patients have many different responses to it including that one day they’ll be reunited with their spouse. I could never have imagined that this piece would do what it has done. All sorts of people – Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians – have looked at it and everyone has different ideas. It strikes a nerve. God means many different things to people but whatever it is this piece touches people to their core."
Tedeschi says that all of his pieces are very different, and because they are scattered in collections across the country, there will be just three pieces on display at his first public showing at Holsome Gallery, accompanied by pictures of the others. "The other pieces are so unique in their expression that if I included them, they would take away from one another. I really want to get people’s reaction to this piece."
At the age of 11, Tedeschi created his first piece – a sculpture of boxing gloves, which he made for the boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter. His second piece, a bust and self-portrait, was created in 1974 upon graduating from Fairleigh
Dickinson at the age of 20. "Destined by Being," created in 1990, was immediately purchased by a curator and art collector in Las Vegas. "Margaret," a piece commissioned by a friend as a gift for his wife, was completed in 1991. Depicting a lily that blossoms into a woman, "Margaret" raises her hands, which are leaves, to the sky while her hair blossoms into another lily.
Tedeschi says the beauty of "May Death Not Do Us Part" is that it allows people to reflect on both life and death. "We’re not honest in life, but we’re honest when we face death. Why not be honest and really do something for each other. We don’t know what our art does to the next person. That’s all part of the inspiration. We’re just the decoders. It all intertwines out of our control. I just hope this piece inspires others to want to make art."
John Tedeschi, Saturday, October 22, 5:30 p.m. Holsome Gallery, 27 Witherspoon Street. Opening reception for an exhibit of sculpture by Tedeschi, a family practitioner in Robbinsville. Through November 30. 609-279-1592.