On April 27, the biggest of all dates during Haddonfield Sculpture Month, the Haddonfield Outdoor Sculpture Trust is expected to unveil a new children’s sculpture zoo at Tatem Gardens.
Local artist Eric Berg, who works out of his studio in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia, is expected to have the biggest contribution to the new artistic endeavor, with three new animal sculpture creations: a toad, bunny rabbit and sea lion.
“Stuart (HOST chairman Harting) got me because he was so persistent. He kept saying ‘we gotta have your work in our town!’ They were pieces of reasonable scale that kids can have access to, made in bronze so they’re durable, they can take the strains of physical interaction and weather and wear and such. They had previews of the sculptures last week and the people voted on it, and those were the three that they loved the most,” Berg said.
“They were also the perfect scale for the size for the park. Stuart wanted the life-sized gorilla – which would have been great – but it’s not as durable as the smaller pieces and wouldn’t withstand the weather and wear.
Originally enrolled at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to study economics, Berg soon realized he had more to gain, and gained more satisfaction, from carvings he made on the side as his time in academia came to a close.
He decided to stick with the Ivy League, and after three years, completed an MFA in sculpture at Penn. Soon after, he received his first commission: the famed African Warthog which has been on display for more than 40 years at the Philadelphia Zoo.
“I started whittling as a hobby during my senior undergraduate year, and it seemed like it was the only thing I did that had any value, so I thought I should pursue it,” Berg deadpanned.
“It was enterprising spirit on my part. I carved little animals in stone and whittled some other little pieces, a whale and penguin in ivory. So I had this array of animals and I went to the zoo and asked if they needed any animal-based artwork. They were about to undergo a new project, so I took pictures to the project architect and he said … a warthog. He then asked for a model, and it was approved. This was around 1974 or ‘75. That was my first public piece, I was four or five months out of graduate school.”
Over the ensuing years, Berg has completed almost four dozen public commissions at zoos, parks, museums and universities around the United States. One conspicuous outdoor attraction Berg is known for is the famed larger-than-life dragon that stands guard outside Drexel University.
Hallmarks of Berg’s work are his fascination with the natural world, a dignified portrayal of his subjects, and insistence that his works are accessible for the public. Berg acknowledged that he didn’t set out to craft the Tatem animals specifically with children in mind, but was mindful of his intended audience.
“I don’t work intentionally. It really depends on the opportunity. We’re going to be at a children’s park so I thought about making them the correct scale, and fashioned them so that there are no sharp edges. I was trying for smooth surfaces, so kids can enjoy it properly and safely,” he said.
Almost five decades into his career, Berg shows no sign of slowing down in his pursuit of new subject matter, new locations, and new audiences. While recent back surgery knocked him out of commission for about four to five days, Berg confirmed he will still be on hand to see the installation of his latest work.
“I didn’t intend to become a landmark maker, but that’s what I ended up doing. I‘m glad to be leaving these things to the generations coming after me,” Berg concluded.
The sculpture zoo unveiling is scheduled for 3 p.m. on April 27. For more information, contact HOST at https://haddonfieldsculpture.org/. For more information on Berg’s artwork, visit: http://www.bergbronze.com.