It is both a blessing and a curse of some great artists that their work is so embedded in our culture, the creator is forgotten or ignored. That may be less true in Delaware, where we know our artists as well as we know any other neighbor. Yet it seems to me that in the case of the beloved sculptor Charles Parks, his work is so naturalistic, there are many occasions when we barely give the man a thought.
I can’t take myself off the hook. Though I can’t separate “Boy with Hawk” at the Brandywine River Museum from Parks, I’d walked past his sculpture of William Penn in New Castle countless times in the 32 years it has stood there without realizing it was his—without it once occurring to me that I should have known better. I’m embarrassed to admit the same of the Vietnam War memorial statue in Brandywine Park.
When I saw “Charles Parks—The Man Behind the Art” a few weeks ago, all was made clear. So it is our great pleasure and privilege to share excerpts from the book in this issue.
“The Man Behind the Art,” commissioned by the Charles Parks Foundation, was photographed by Kevin Fleming and written by Pam George, two longtime Delaware Today contributors. Due out this month, it shows the 300 works that passed to the state just before Parks’ death at age 90 in 2012, plus many of the works displayed in public, such as “Father and Son” in the Spencer Plaza of Wilmington, “The Student” at Newark Free Library, the statue of Gov. Russell Peterson at the riverfront wildlife refuge and, of course, Parks’ three famous Madonnas, the first of which earned him nationwide celebrity.
Not that Parks seemed to care too much. Art came first. Mastery of his mediums makes Parks a technician of the highest order, but it’s his sensitivity that makes him a great artist. Parks obsessed over ways to portray the natural dignity of his subjects. Whether human or some other animal, whether spiritual or fantastical, they, through Parks’ imagination, remind us of what truth and beauty are.
“I’m trying to reach people where they live,” Parks once said. “Where they live is home, and it’s their relationship with the world at large that I’m trying to communicate with.”
Within the limits of these pages, Delaware Today can give only a sense of what informed Parks’ work, so I urge you to read the book. You can order it at charlesparksbook.com. Celebrate its release Oct. 27 at the DuPont Environmental Education Center on the Wilmington waterfront. I believe you’ll find it to be time and money well spent.