• U.S.

Art: Groping Boy

3 minute read

When the town fathers of Bristol, Va. (pop. 15,954) set aside $8,500 for “ornamental stone” to decorate their new $1,200,000 high school, they did not specify exactly what they wanted. The choice was left to the school’s architect, who decided on a piece from one of Italy’s leading modern sculptors, Pericle Fazzini (TIME, May 7, 1951). But when the packing case arrived from Rome last year and the school officials got their first look, they gasped in pained surprise. Inside was a 6½ft. expressionistic bronze statue of a nude, egg-headed boy, braced against a gnarled stump to rescue a fawn from drowning.

The local press promptly named the statue “The Groping Boy.” Snapped Roy Elkins, managing editor of the Bristol Virginia-Tennnessean: “The deer looks half-starved and the boy is in even worse shape.” To most Bristol citizens the work was “idiotic,” “ridiculous” and “a monstrosity.” Last fortnight the city council voted to pay $2,600 for the artist’s expenses, and canceled the contract.

When the news of Bristol’s rejection reached Rome, it set off an explosion in the Via Margutta studio of Sculptor Fazzini. Producing photos of Italy’s President Luigi Einaudi admiring a clay reproduction of the statue. Fazzini indignantly snorted: “If it’s good enough for the President of Italy, it should be good enough for a U.S. high school.” Bristling with indignation, Sculptor Fazzini pointed out that he had done the altar columns for the new American College in Rome, had made a 10-ft statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, America’s first saint, for Rome’s Church of Saint Eugenius. “Where’s Bristol?” Fazzini angrily demanded. “To know who I am all you have to do is open any art publication or see who won the first prize at the international Biennale of Venice.” Back in Bristol, Fazzini’s blast got a homespun retort. Editorialized the Bristol Herald Courier: “He said he didn’t know where Bristol is after he learned us ‘hillbillies’ in this ‘mountain-locked community’ reckoned his divine piece of Small Boy and Fawn wasn’t worth the asking price of $8,500 in view of the need for other things—like schoolrooms and such . . . Now frankly we don’t have any bones to pick with Mr. Fazzini. His statue may be a ‘divine piece’ and it may be worth $8,500, but we’re sorta old-fashioned hereabouts and kinda figure we could use the money better somewhere else.” Last week, while the school architect began looking around for new customers, Sculptor Fazzini’s “Groping Boy” was still in its packing case at the Bristol high school.

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