Stella Waitzkin (1920-2003) was a nationally recognized sculptor known for her decades-long exploration of the book as sculptural form and her extensive use of cast polyester resin.
Waitzkin was born in New York City and worked there throughout her life. She began as an abstract expressionist, studying painting with Hans Hofmann and life drawing with Willem de Kooning in the 1950s. In the 1960s and early 1970s, she expanded beyond painting to work first in sculpture, then performance art and film, as well. After the sixties, her primary subject was the book. She cast old, leather-bound books as single objects and as elements of larger assemblages, including free-standing shelves, small book cases, or entire “library” walls. These constructions are composed almost entirely of cast resin tomes yet, on occasion, she included actual books. Often, she inserted other cast objects within her libraries: clocks, birds, fruit, human faces.
These are beautiful art works, colorful, translucent, luminous. The artist would suspend color within the resin and was especially sensitive to the visual play of hue, light, and shadow within each sculpture and installation. In them, we realize that Waitzkin never strayed far from her origins as an expressionist painter. Indeed, throughout her life she continued to paint, creating intensely expressive works on paper that extended the themes and imagery of her sculpture.
Waitzkin’s books and assemblages are powerful art works, both spiritually and emotionally affecting. There is an over-arching aura of mystery about them; yet they assert an intense physicality. Her use of leather-bound books for her molds calls up a distant past; her cast faces resemble cameos of another era. But we feel most immediately the embodied passion of the artist’s life, her deep understanding of human longing and loss, of personal desire and achievement.
Waitzkin exhibited widely in Europe and America and received the Lee Krasner Award for lifetime achievement from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 1995. Her works are in many public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, The Jewish Museum, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the RISD Museum, the Queens Museum, The New York Public Library, and the Newark Museum of Art.