Ballet Olympia.

Ballet Olympia

Movin on down Peachtree Street for the March post, I selected the towering 20 ft. sculpture ‘Ballet Olympia’ in front of the Sun Trust Building.  Designed by Architect John Portman, ‘Ballet Olympia’ was adapted from a 3 ft. bronze figure ’Maenad’ as a tribute to the sculptor – Paul Manship.

If you don’t know John Portman, he grew up in Atlanta and graduated from GA Tech.  He went on to become an internationally acclaimed Architect.  In order to secure his architectural vision, he would purchase property to move forward with his projects.   During the 60’s his endeavors began to breathe new life into a debilitated downtown Atlanta with the making of The Merchandise Mart, Peachtree Center, The Hyatt Regency, The Westin and Marriott Marquis.  Incorporating sculpture into his architecture became signature for his work.  His artistic Architectural skills became evident with significant designs in San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles and China.  It is not unusual that he would be captivated by the work of Paul Manship who also valued the importance of Sculpture meeting Architecture.

I was stunned to realize that Manship’s sculpture is among the most prominent at Brookgreen Gardens (a place that I frequent and the subject for my January post).  You may know Paul Manship from his work ‘Prometheus’ at Rockefeller Center in New York.

'Prometheus' at Rockefeller Center

It was the 1929 stock market crash that led to the creation of the soaring golden Prometheus.   Times were bad and the construction of Rockefeller Center was to be a symbol of a prosperous future with hope that the United States would rebound from the economic hardships of the Depression.  The gravity defying Titan ‘Prometheus’ giving mankind the gift of fire was to be optimism for a troubled Country.

At the age of 23, Manship became the youngest sculptor awarded the American Prix de Rome (the most competitive and coveted prize among young American artists).  This opportunity allowed him to travel and study through Italy and Greece for 5 years.  There he developed a strong influence from archaic ancient sculpture.  His intense interest in the history of classical sculpture from India was closely followed by that of Egyptian, Assyrian and pre-classical Greek.  It was during this time that Manship developed his distinctly personal expression in his own sculpture.  The simplification to detail with sensitivity to form and contour created a rhythmic linear style for his  subjects.

Manship was a member of the Smithsonian Art Commission for 25 years.  He lobbied to ensure that sculpture continued to play an integral role on the grounds of public buildings.

“More Important than formalities and geometrical considerations is the feeling for human qualities and harmony and movement in life.” Paul Manship


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