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.”

Hindu Spiritual Leader Heals with Hugs

         Published July 20, 2012, Pawtucket Times 

         Just shy of an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, thousands of spiritual seekers and devotee’s of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, simply known to her followers as Amma (or mother in Sanskrit), gathered at the huge conference and trade center at the Best Western Royal Plaza in Marlborough, Massachusetts, just to sit before the Indian Saint to experience her healing embrace, hugs, and to meditate.   

          Throughout the free public morning and evening programs held on July 14th, followed by a three-day retreat (costing $360 for adults that included room and board; less for children), organizers estimated that there would be over 10,000 hugs given to those attending this year’s New England gathering for her blessing.  The New England program was the last stop of her North American Tour, an annual tour that began in 1987.

 Sitting Before Amma

          Issac Amponsah, proprietor of Ama’s Variety on Main Street, attends Catholic services, mediates twice a day chanting his Transcendental Meditation (TM) mantra and along with following the teachings of Amma.

         Last year Amponsah’s car broke down on his way the see Amma.  Now, waits for hours in the 47,500 square foot conference and trade center with his brother, Paul, to see Amma and get her blessings.  The Pawtucket businessman, casually dressed wearing sandals, knelt before Amna, surrounding by swamis in orange robes, devotee volunteers and spiritual seekers, getting his brief embrace, lasting for less than a minute.  Amma slowly rocked the Woodlawn resident as she chanted a mantra in his ear. When finished he left carrying a spiritually-charged Hersey Kiss and a few flower petals.

        Over thirty four years ago, Amponsah says curiosity and a thirst for knowledge led him to Transcendental Meditation (TM), when he learned the art of meditation. In 1992, a fellow TM practitioner brought him to meet Amma in New York and where he got his first hug and listened to her Vedic philosophies.  Over the years he still travels to see her when she comes through New England.

        “Knowledge, inspiration and love are the things I take away from seeing Amma,” states Amponsah.  He believes that she is the true expression of Devine love, just like Jesus Christ, too.      

        “It was like soul connecting to soul,” noted Amponsah, trying to explain his brief spiritual encounter with Amma.  “She just radiates love.”

        Like Amponsah, other aging Rhode Island baby boomers came across the Massachusetts’s border to get Amma’s blessing, too.

        For the last couple of years, Elizabeth Johanson, 50, a Pawtucket resident and a practicing Catholic has also come for Amma’s hugs and blessings.  She considers this Hindu Saint to be the incarnation of the divine Mother.

       According to Johanson, “Amma’s the real deal,” who financially supports programs to promote nonviolence and social justice, and feeding and housing the poor.

       Johanson, wearing a white t-shirt sporting the word, “love” wears an Our Lady of Guadalupe medallion, strongly believes that her yearly encounters with Amma and studying her teachings only strengthens her traditional beliefs in Catholicism.

       “I try to take Amma’s love and unconditional compassion out into Pawtucket and Central Falls each day, notes the mental health worker. “As I become more spiritually nourished I am able to become more patient and tolerate in my every day world, she says.

        Fifty-seven year old Tommy Emmet, who grew up practicing the doctrine of the Church of England, now is spiritually eclectic.  Practicing Hindu and Buddhism, and an avid reader of tomes on the world’s religions he sees the thread of truth in all religious practices.

        Wearing blue jeans and a colorful Hawaiian shirt, the aging baby boomer proudly wears an Obama ’08 button, sporting a necklace showing his religious beliefs.  Dangling charms were of images of Hindu deities, others of Native American symbols, and one of  Amma.

         In 2007, his wife, Karen Lee, the owner of the Pawtucket-based Breathing Time Yoga Studio, introduced him to Amma. Emmet, an usher at National Amusement Theater at Providence mall, has continued to come each year for her healing hugs and blessings.

         Emmet claims that sitting before this Hindu Spiritual teacher enables him to more easily connect to his divine, higher power and allows him to be more loving with himself and others.  “Thinking about Amma just helps me get through the day,” he says.

.The Making of Spiritual Teacher

         Amma grew up in poverty in 1953 in a remote coastal village in Kerala, South India, her family trade — fishing.  As a young girl she spent many hours in deep mediation on the seashore where she began to compose devotional songs, many of these compositions revealed depth and wisdom.

         With an ailing mother, Amma left school to help with household tasks, taking care of her seven siblings. As she went door-to-door gathering food scraps from neighbors for her family’s cows, she saw intense poverty and suffering in her community.  She brought people food and clothing from her own home, to the dismay of her family.      

        With this begun the spontaneously hugging of people to comfort them, who responded by calling her Amma (Mother).  She found her path of serving others…

 Amma Recognized Around the Globe for her Charity Work

        In 1997, Amma toured the world, including the United States.  With her home ashram in Kerala, South India, her ashrams, teaching her philosophy that all religions are one, are now scattered around the world.  Her devotees say that Amma has never asked anyone to change their religion, only that they go deeper into their values or faith, and live by those essential principles. 

        One year later, one of her initiatives, “Embracing the World Program” (ETW), has funded humanitarian efforts throughout in India.  This program has provided more than $50 million in totally free medical care, built an 800-bed hospital, a medical school and health clinics.  Meanwhile, it has provided more than 40,000 homes for the homeless throughout India and given financial aid for 100,000 people unable to care for themselves.  ETW projects also fund vocational-training, literacy-training, open and operate orphanages, hospices, nursing homes, scholarship programs, and even the planting trees.

        Amma has received international praise.  She has delivered addresses at the United Nations several times and has spoken twice at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  She has also received the Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence in Geneva and the James Park Morton Interfaith Award in New York. Two years ago, the Hindu spiritual leader was presented an honorary doctorate in humane letters at the University at Buffalo North Campus.

       Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health and medical issues.  This article was published in the July 20, 2012 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.