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There is a new urgency to Bill Bendig’s work. He turned 90 last December and recently learned he has cancer. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Connecticut shoreline has miles of sand; it has miles of surf; and, starting more than two decades ago, it has had something else that also starts with the letter S: miles of sculpture. The man responsible for that sculpture is Bill Bendig of Essex who created the Hollycroft Foundation in 1991 to introduce a wider public to contemporary sculpture.
Bendig’s goal is 100 pieces of sculpture along a 50-mile area on or near the Boston Post Road from Guilford to Stonington.
“My concern is that all the public knows about outdoor sculpture is generals on horseback,” Bendig said. “Sculpture is the least known of the arts, and outdoor sculpture has less opportunity to be seen. It should be part of everyday life. You should encounter it when you go shopping; it should stimulate you to learn more about it. My ultimate goal is to make the whole shoreline aware of contemporary sculpture.”
These days, there is a new urgency to Bendig’s work. He turned 90 last December and recently learned he has pancreatic cancer.
“I’m in no pain. I’m on home hospice. I’m not morbid about it, but I am not going to have chemo or anything like that. I am surprisingly okay; I still do my own cooking,” he said. “My great concern is that when I leave the foundation, I leave it in good order.”
Bendig has named a successor to head the Hollycroft Foundation, artist Brian Wendler of East Haven, on the faculty of the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan. But, even though a successor is in place, Bending is not ready to leave quite yet, though he appreciates the realities of his medical condition.
“I hope to step down in the middle of next year, if I don’t expire sooner. I’m so darn stubborn I want to hold out for a bit longer,” he added.
At the moment, according to Bendig, the Hollycroft Foundation has six pieces installed in Guilford at the Guilford Art Center, the beginning of his 50 miles of sculpture. There are 37 sculptures in Madison, which comprise the well-known Madison Mile, and 39 in New London, along a sculpture mile inaugurated in 2017. Bendig hopes that additional sculptures will be installed in Old Saybrook and Clinton, though plans are not yet firm, and at least six pieces are planned for Water Street Park in Stonington, where the 50 miles of outdoor sculpture will end. In addition, Studio 80+, a sculpture studio and gallery in Old Lyme, has agreed to have works presently installed at its entrance on Lyme Street included as part of the 100 sculptures in the 50-mile project.
Sculptors loan their works to the Hollycroft Foundation for one to two years, though some can stay in place longer. None, however, remain permanently. Many of the sculptures are on private property, though placed in areas close to streets or rights of way where the public can view them. Some are so massive that a crane is necessary to put them in place.
Bendig uses a special crane operator from New Jersey for the task—”The best crane operator for sculpture,” he said.
Still, there is the unexpected. A high wind recently blew over a 4-ton, 11-foot sculpture in New London.
Bendig said that he has no trouble locating sculptors whose work would be appropriate for the outdoor exhibitions because he has kept his contacts in the art world.
“It is a small world and we all keep in touch. We have internationally known names in these exhibitions, many internationally known names.” he said.
He will not, however, name a favorite sculptor or a favorite piece.
“No one is more egotistical than artists. I wouldn’t want to say one is a favorite,” he explained.
The Hollycroft Foundation publishes a catalog periodically, available in public libraries along the shoreline, of the installations and their sites. Bendig is working on the latest catalog now. In addition, the foundation’s website, www.hollycroft.org, is in the process of updating to show where sculptures are located.
Bending started a newspaper in Erie, Pennsylvania at the age of 17, and his biography notes the sale of that paper financed his education at Trinity College in Hartford. After graduating, he founded another publication, the ARTgallery, which appeared from late 1957 to 1983. He subsequently edited an art magazine in Africa, as well as teaching, lecturing, and writing widely on the arts.
On a recent visit, despite his cancer diagnosis, Bendig was animated and enthusiastic. As he rummaged through his large collection of memorabilia looking for material to show a visitor, he jested about the memory challenges of growing old.
“I tell people I don’t have Alzheimer’s. I tell them I have half-zeimers.” he joked.
But he grew serious when he talks about what he calls his dream, outdoor sculptures along 50 miles of the Connecticut Shoreline.
“This is will be my legacy,” he said.
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