Pawtucket City Hall to Host Major Exhibit of Renown 90-Year-Old Sculptor

Published in the Woonsocket Call on September 16, 2019

The City of Pawtucket’s Arts and Culture Commission hosts a major exhibit of the work of 90-year-old internationally acclaimed Artist, Mihail Simeonov, running from September 19-December 31, 2019. An opening reception to meet Mihai will be held at Pawtucket City Hall, Thursday, September 19, 2019, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., 137 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 02860.

Home to a thriving arts community, the City of Pawtucket is delighted to present this first-time major exhibition by an internationally-acclaimed sculptor and resident, says Mayor Donald R. Grebien. “As a city committed to art, design and innovation, we are delighted to be able to share the work of such an important artist. Bridging cultures, aesthetic worlds and ideas, Mihail’s work is both visually stunning and deeply rooted in history. He is remarkable for his continued innovation and relevance in contemporary art,” says the Mayor.

“As we celebrate the arts in the City of Pawtucket throughout September, we are honored to have Pawtucket-resident Mihail showcase his visionary artwork at a major exhibit in the City Hall Art Gallery”, states Miram Plitt, Chair of the City’s Arts and Culture Commission. “We invite anyone with an interest in art and those who rally to protect the world’s wild life to attend our opening reception to celebrate the life-time creativity and vision of Mihail whose extraordinary works of art can be seen at the United Nations,” says Plitt.

Cast the Sleeping Elephant

Although the 90-year-old Pawtucket resident has practicing his craft for over 75 years, with major public monuments in Bulgaria and Tunisia, he is best known for his life-size bull elephant bronze sculpture at the United Nations (UN).

In 1980, after several years of planning and work on a breakthrough idea, Mihail travelled to Kenya where, with the help of the country’s Ministry of Wildlife, he took a cast of a live bull elephant bull in the wild. The elephant survived the 72-minute process completely unharmed. From that live cast, Mihail created the Cast the Sleeping Elephant bronze, an over-life size sculpture. The sculpture was officially inaugurated by Secretary General Kofi Annan and installed at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York City in 1998, where it continues to serve as a symbol of man’s dedication to preserving all living creatures.

Mihail says his bronze elephant is a symbol of the importance to protect all wildlife and it is aptly placed at the United Nations, the home of all nations.

The Travels of Mihail

Mihail was born in Bulgaria in 1929, where for seven years he studied philosophy and majored in monumental sculpture at the academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. When one of his commissioned monuments provoked the wrath of Bulgaria’s communist government, Mihail went into exile in Tunisia. In Tunis, enchanted by an exuberance of Mediterranean colors and intense light, the artist embarked on a new aesthetic journey.

After several in Tunis, where many of his large-scale monuments continue to stand, Mihail and his wife, Lilda, emigrated to the United States in the early 1970’s, settling in a loft in New York City. Mihail was granted entry because of his status as an “exceptional artist.”

For over 10 years, Mihail also worked out of a boathouse art studio in Lloyd Harbor, where he was an artist in residence at Friends College. Later relocating to Millbrook, New York and then to Orient, Long Island. Mihail and Lida raised their daughter, Iana, a filmmaker who now lives in San Francisco with her cinematographer husband.

Around 2003, Mihail was looking for a new home and location for his art studio. An article in the Travel Section of the New York Times, picked up at random in an empty train car that featured the historic Pawtucket mills prompted him to write a letter to Mayor James E. Doyle. Mihail thought he might like to move there. Three days after writing this letter he was contacted by Herb Weiss, the City’s Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer. Two years later he would become a Pawtucket resident with Lida, living in one of the city’s mills.

Extraordinary Impact on Contemporary Art

According to Iana Simeonov, Mihail’s daughter and a former art dealer and critic, the Pawtucket exhibition showcases several distinct but related bodies of Mihail’s work in a range of media, including bronze, painting and drawing. The works illustrate how the 90-year-old artist continues to evolve artistically, elaborating on themes which have compelled and fascinated him since the 1960’s.

“Mihail’s 75 years as artist have not only been prolific, but extraordinary in terms of their contribution to the history and vitality of contemporary art,” adds Simeonov, “Mihail’s work has been the subject of dozens of solo exhibitions from New York to Chicago, Stockholm, Basel, Geneva to Milan.

“Mihail’s work is held in over 100 private and museum collections around the world, and his large-scale public monuments continue to stand in public squares and prominent spaces in the US, Europe, and Africa. His artistic legacy and personal story are uniquely compelling and, at age 90 he continues to innovate with materials and is as freshly obsessed with making art as the day he entered the academy,” she adds.

Mihail has not looked back since he relocated to his Pawtucket mill. “I like Pawtucket for its history and old charm and it’s only minutes away from Providence,” he says, noting that his artwork now reflects the industrial character of the City.

Mihail acknowledges that he has never had an exhibit at City Hall. “It’s highly unusual,” he says, admitting that he feels “grateful and happy.”

Pawtucket to Celebrate its Own

Published October 11, 2012, Pawtucket Times  

            Making a difference in your community can be as simple as helping a family member, neighbor or friend who are in need of a little assistance.  Those simple acts of kindness can have far reaching effects that are not always obvious  – whether it be shoveling a side walk for a neighbor, donating canned goods to feed the needy, or volunteering for a nonprofit or civic group, are some examples of giving of ones self.     

             But some Pawtucket residents (or even former one’s, too) excel in their motivation to “go the extra mile” to making a positive impact on their beloved Pawtucket community. Enhancing their home town to strengthen its social fabric becomes their life’s mission.   Founded in 1986 to commemorate the City of Pawtucket’s 100th Anniversary, today the Pawtucket Hall of Fame has recognized 98 inductees, that include 18 historical figures, who have made an extremely positive impact in the Birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution.  In two weeks, the following five inductees will join their ranks, to be recognized by the City’s Pawtucket Hall of Committee for 2012:

 A Voice for the Voiceless

             Semi-retired businessman and philanthropist Paul Audette brings his love for the City of Pawtucket with his detailed historical knowledge of the community, combined with 50 years of work experience. “He comes to the aide of those in need”, notes Patty Zacks, who nominated this 83 year old inductee.  “He never wants or expects to be recognized for his help,” Zacks adds. 

             “His actions [to help] are led by his heart and done for the right reasons,” says Zacks,  who believes that he has oftentimes been the ‘glue” that help keeps this community working together.

             Mayor Donald R. Grebien, notes “He is a self-described ombudsman for the City and has worked in many instances to insure that a potential new business can navigate its way through the “red tape” to become a successful Pawtucket business.

             Former President of the Pawtucket Rotary Club, Colin Murray, also recognized Audette’s efforts to help others.  “Because of his determination for making Pawtucket a better place to live and work, the Pawtucket Rotary Club awarded him the prestigious Paul Harris Fellow Award, the highest civic recognition that the civic group bestows upon a individual,” he said.

              According to Murray, Audette has been an advocate for the “voiceless” and has served as a volunteer ombudsman for the Alliance for Better Long-Term Care, was Chair of the City’s Affirmative Action Committee, and worked for decades assisting the down and out in the community, providing financial assistance and helping them navigate the State’s regulatory process.  Audette, a Pawtucket Rotarian, exemplifies the Rotary International’s motto, “Service Above Self,” Murray says.

         Murray adds that since 2006, as co-founder of a nonprofit group, Helping Hands, Audette has continued assistance to local organizations that help at-risk Pawtucket youth, the homeless, and the helpless.  Organizations receiving assistance include Cross Roads, Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Pawtucket Salvation Army and the American Cancer Society.

Bringing Winter Wonders to Pawtucket

            Janice McHale and her good friend, Jean Stipek, of Pawtucket, will also become 2012 inductees into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame.

            Pawtucket resident Dawn P. Goff, who chairs the Winter Wonderland Committee, recognizes McHale and Stipek, for creating Pawtucket’s premier winter event. After experiencing a winter festival in California, McHale and Stipek presented their idea to Mayor James E. Doyle, who gave them the “green light” to organize a “Winter Wonderland” in Pawtucket. 

            For over a decade these two Pawtucket residents directed the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers.  Goff noted that last year, Winter Wonderland turned 13-years-old, showcasing 425 lighted Christmas trees, along with 20 Victorian Houses sponsored by local businesses along with a number of lighted displays.  The two December weekends were jam-packed with festive holiday entertainment, Goff says.

            Winter Wonderland, drawing thousands of Rhode Islanders into Slater Park each December,  began with “two people who had a vision in 1999”,  Goff adds.

            Besides her activities with Winter Wonderland, McHale has served on the Pawtucket Riverfront Commission, the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission, in addition to the Grand Marshall of the St. Patrick Day Parade in 2000.    

America’s Legendary Jockey

            John “Red” Pollard rode into American history while overcoming physical disabilities, such as partial blindness in one eye and worked with intense physical pain caused by severe riding injuries that fractured his bones.  The man who rode Seabiscuit, humbly accepted his role in racing history.   As noted by local horse trainer, Nino Calabro “Red had a way with the horses..”. And Seabiscut was considered to be one of  America’s most recognized thoroughbred racehorses in the nation’s history.

             Attorney John J. Partridge who nominated the late Pollard, says “It is not often we can honor someone who lived a relatively quiet life while as a resident of Pawtucket, but was internationally acclaimed and twice memorialized in motion pictures, and more recently in a best-selling book [on the Times bestsellers list for a total of 42 weeks].”  Pollard, who in his later years resided at 249 Vine Street in Darlington with his wife Agnes, raised their two children, Norah and John in Pawtucket and worked at the Narragansett Race Track.  Today, Red and his wife Agnes’ final resting place is in the City’s Notre DameCemetery.

             Supporting this nomination, Mayor Grebien noted, “Between August 1936 and March 1940, Pollard rode Seabiscuit 30 times, winning 18 races including his final start in March 1940, the year the horse and rider won the San Anita Handicap and Seabiscuit was the nation’s top money-winning thoroughbred.”

             According to Mayor Grebien, Pollard was “an outstanding athlete himself in a very demanding sport, and mentored countless young jockeys who rode at Narragansett Race Track.”  He often provided shelter and a hot meal to many of the young jockey’s who needed a hand as they aspired to what Pollard had achieved as one of horse racing’s all-time best jockeys.”

          A  native of Alberta, Canada, Pollard was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1982, says Tom Cosgrove, Archivist. “His name will be forever linked to the days when thoroughbred racing, boxing, and baseball were the only sports in America that truly mattered,” states Cosgrove.  

             Terence J. Meyocks, of the Nicholasville, Kentucky-based Jockeys Guild, says that Pollard “holds a special place in Jockey’s Guild history because he was one of the founding fathers of the Guild in 1940.  He joined other leading jockey’s at the time including Eddie Arcaro, John Longden and Charles Kurtsinger, to create the Guild, which represents the health and safety interests of jockeys everywhere.”

 Unsung Civil War Hero

             Finally, Pawtucket resident, Dale Rogers, nominated Lt. Colonel Henry Harrison Young, who becomes this years’ Historical Inductee.  “Young distinguished himself and his unit throughout the war by furnishing excellent intelligence on Confederate troop movements and by oftentimes even donning Confederate uniforms to either kidnap southern soldiers or gather valuable information for General Sheridan. 

             According to Roger’s,  the Civil War veteran was dispatched at the war’s end to the Texas border to round up Confederate renegades who were making raids, where he lost his life in an ambush while crossing the Rio Grande River.  A statute was dedicated to this Pawtucket resident at BurnsidePark in Providence, (across from the Biltmore, near the skating rink), for his heroics.

             The Pawtucket Hall of Fame Dinner and Induction Ceremony will take place on Friday, October 26th at 7:00pm. at the LeFoyer Club on 151 Fountain Street.  To purchase tickets ($30 each)  please call Rick Goldstein, at (401) 728-0500, Ext. 348. 

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.