Artists never die. Through their artwork — be it music, literature, stone — they achieve immortality. And for some, even after their corporal bodies leave this world, their artwork continues to be created.
Such is the case for Philadelphia-based artist Dina Wind, who passed away from ovarian cancer at the age of 76 in 2014. Over the summer Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton unveiled her most recent work. “Harp of David” is a 26-foot, 15,000-pound enlargement of Wind’s 1985 sculpture of the same name. The original was only 26 inches high.
The work, commissioned by Grounds For Sculpture, was completed in partnership with the Dina Wind Foundation and the Seward Johnson Atelier.
“We selected ‘Harp of David #1’ (1985) for enlargement because of its strength of composition, which feels both graceful and whimsical, and seemed particularly well-suited to be enlarged to a monumental scale while still retaining the spirit of the original work,” says GFS Executive Director Gary Garrido Schneider, who met with Wind’s widower, Jerry Wind, some time after Dina died. They struck up a conversation about enlarging her work — something Wind herself had envisioned. The Woodmere Art Museum had already enlarged a work to 30 feet.
Grounds For Sculpture Chief Curator Tom Moran paid a studio visit to the Wind residence where, he says, he was overwhelmed by the quantity of her work. “There were pieces on the roof, in the driveway, and everywhere there was steel and aluminum.” (In addition to found parts, Wind worked in aluminum, steel, and paper, and also made “broaches for buildings,” according to her son, John Wind.) “‘Harp of David’ resonated with the site we had selected for it. It sang out in terms of what the possibilities are here and the exuberance of the piece.”
The fabrication process, which took six months, required an understanding of the artist’s original intentions, as well as the knowledge to understand how to translate the original work to a monumental scale.
“We worked with the Winds to figure out how to simplify it because some things don’t translate when scaled up, like the teeth on the gears,” says fabrication supervisor Adam Garey. “We broke everything down to the simplest forms — most of the piece is hollow. The larger solid pieces were scanned and cut out.” An outside firm with a special machine was subcontracted for the rolling and bending.
The final 15,000-pound “Harp of David” was moved in pieces and welded together on site.
The harp of David, said to be the first stringed instrument mentioned in the Old Testament, is sometimes called the national instrument of the Jewish people, according to Wikipedia. The young David was called in the night to play his harp before an ailing King Saul. The king had been having nightmares, anger fits, and general malaise that were affecting his mind as well as his physical health. When the harp was played he felt better and, according to the legend, the evil spirit departed from him.
The harp is still considered to be a soothing instrument, says John Wind, and “Harp of David” combines his own family history with the soothing and healing power of art.
Dina Wind was born in 1938 in Israel, where her parents owned a gas station, but she has been called a child of the abstract expressionism movement. She served in the Israeli army as a corporal during the 1956 Sinai Campaign, coding and decoding confidential communications. Wind met her husband, Jerry, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem; the two married in 1959. Wind earned a bachelor’s in sociology and education in 1962, and in 1963 the couple moved to California, where Jerry was invited to serve on the faculty at Stanford. In 1966 he took a job at the Wharton School, where he teaches marketing to this day.
In Philadelphia Wind earned a master’s degree in communications and aesthetics from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. She earned a certificate in art appreciation from the Barnes Foundation in 1977.
She was, at first, a painter, but soon found the blank canvas less welcoming than a pile of scrap metal. She studied with Sam Feinstein (himself a student of the legendary abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman), and took welding classes at the Cheltenham Arts Center in suburban Philadelphia, where she studied under the sculptor Leon Sitarchik and became immersed in the process of welding scrap steel into sophisticated and challenging abstract spatial compositions of varying scales. She became particularly adept at welding and layering compositions of found steel, incorporating and repurposing everything from old car parts to saw blades, and making an environmental statement through her choice of material.
The parts used for “Harp of David #1” included gears, a railroad track, car springs, punctured metal, and other rusted objects she found in the junkyard. The enlargement at Grounds For Sculpture is made of steel and required an engineered patina to simulate the rust of the original.
Wind worked by herself. “Rooted in abstraction, she worked intuitively, drawing in space as the materials spoke to her,” says her son John, a Philadelphia-based jewelry designer and artist. “She was looking for the perfect combinations of materials.” By contrast, the enlargement at Grounds For Sculpture required a team of engineers, blacksmiths, and digital specialists. “For Dina it was all intuition but this fabulous highly engineered work is carefully measured.”
“It’s unbelievable to see the care and attention of these guys in creating a 26-foot work out of something 26 inches,” says Jerry Wind.
“She was interested in the formal qualities of beauty, but also had an awareness of the environment,” continues her son. “Her ‘Black Islands’ were reconfigured car parts that incorporated ideas about oil, geopolitics, and the Middle East. She was balancing abstraction and the message.”
A longtime member of the Nexus Gallery in Philadelphia and the Veridian Gallery in New York — where she was in both group and solo exhibitions — Wind was welding at a time when she was often the only woman in the room, upcycling before it was vogue.
“She could be elegant and well dressed — she loved fashion — but then in the studio she’d put on her helmet and turn into a lady welder,” says her son.
Since Pablo Picasso created the first welded steel sculptures with Julio Gonzalez in the 1920s, welded steel sculpture was a field dominated by men. Sculptor David Smith refined his skills as a welder of armored tanks and locomotives during World War II. The power of his steel sculptures resonated across the art world from the 1930s through the ’70s. Smith’s use of scrap steel and iron allowed him to accomplish some of the most resonant sculptures of his career alongside some of the influential figures of the post-World War II era including Richard Stankiewicz, Mark di Suvero, Beverly Pepper, and John Chamberlain.
Wind’s love of scrap steel arose from this legacy, and she proceeded with courage to learn the skills required of an industrial fabrication process. She remained true to her focus on steel sculpture despite the changing mediums and approaches to art.
Both Dina and Jerry Wind were collectors, traveling the world. She served on the boards of the Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia Sculptors Group, Relache Music Ensemble, Arts and Business Council, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, according to Susan Dunsmoor, project coordinator. “She believed in the power of art, bringing it to the public, and having her own work be part of the public conversation.”
In addition to John, Wind’s other son, Lee, is a writer of children’s books who lives in California.
“She was fundamentally an optimist, creating beauty out of chaos,” says John. “Art makes you see the world differently, and she achieved that. You’ll never look at a spring the same way.”
Grounds For Sculpture, 126 Sculptors Way, Hamilton. Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. $10 to $18. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.