Storm King: Where sculpture reigns supreme

Storm King: Where sculpture reigns supreme

A retired pediatrician talks about the upstate sculpture garden’s splendors

Isamu Noguchi’s Momo Taro stands in Storm King.
Isamu Noguchi’s Momo Taro stands in Storm King.

David Namerow’s interest in the sculpture gardens at Storm King Art Center dates back to his high school and college years, when his parents would load the family into the car and drive upstate from the Bronx to Mountainville, in Orange County, so they could stroll the stunning grounds and admired the outdoor sculptures.

Later, in the 1980s and ’90s Dr. Namerow made Storm King a regular destination for fall trips with his wife, Peri, and their three daughters.

Dr. Namerow will share his love for Storm King, and the knowledge about it that he’s gathered over the last five years, during a Zoom session on Sunday, January 23, at 11 a.m. The program is sponsored by his synagogue, Temple Israel and JCC of Ridgewood.

Dr. Namerow lives in Mahwah and winters in Sarasota. He grew up on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, went to City College for his undergraduate degree, the University of Louisville for his medical degree, did his residency at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, and then had a fellowship in adolescent medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. In 1979 he founded his practice, Pediatric Care Associates, in Fair Lawn, where he saw young patients until five years ago, when he retired.

Once he left medicine, “I looked for an outlet to continue my interest in teaching as well as to connect with the community,” Dr. Namerow said. “I decided it would be a good idea to look into becoming a volunteer docent at Storm King.”

As a docent, he has become an expert on the history of the park. “Storm King is more than 60 years old,” he said. “At the start, it was thought that the museum would exhibit paintings from the Hudson River School. It was over time that it became an art center entirely devoted to sculpture.”

Dr. David Namerow

Storm King began with two men of very different backgrounds — Ralph Ogden, the owner of a company that made hardware for the home market, Star Expansion Company, and Ogden’s son-in-law, H. Peter Stern. Stern was born in Hamburg, Germany, and was the son of a top official at the Royal Dutch Shell Company, Otto Stern. Otto Stern was stationed in Romania and escaped growing antisemitism in Bucharest, the capital city, during the late 1930s.

When he lost the lease for his factory in Bayonne, Mr. Ogden moved the business to Mountainville, where he had friends. Mountainville is about 45 minutes north of New Jersey’s border, and it is very near the New York State Thruway. “A philanthropist, Ogden became involved in the community, including funding many projects, such as playgrounds in and around the neighboring town of Cornwall,” Dr. Namerow explained.

You also can see evidence of his philanthropy at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, where he was a major benefactor of the museum’s Boulevard operation. A part of the museum is called the Ogden Gallery. Up on the mountain, Ogden donated funds for the construction of the library at Storm King School, and he also created the H. Peter Stern scholarship, named after his son-in-law.

Mr. Stern, who graduated from Harvard and then went on to Yale Law School, decided he didn’t like law very much. That was when Ogden asked him to join Star Expansion. He did.

“One of the reasons that they connected so well was that Ogden’s son was killed in a car crash and Stern’s father was killed in a plane crash,” Dr. Namerow said. In a quote in Stern’s obituary in the New York Times—Stern died in November 2018—Joan Stern, Ogden’s daughter, said that Ogden wanted a son and Stern wanted a father.

“Ogden was an art collector,” Dr. Namerow said. “He always wanted to do something in that world. On the death of a friend who owned a mansion in Mountainville, Ogden bought the mansion and 500 acres of the surrounding land. This then was how Storm King Art Center came into being and became the country’s largest outdoor sculpture park.” In fact, Dr. Namerow added, Storm King might be the largest such park in the world.

Alexander Calder’s “The Arch” was photographed in the fall, as the leaves turned color.

During the morning talk, Dr. Namerow will discuss the collection, which at any one time will have been 115 to 120 sculptures on view outside. “The collection changes from year to year, based on loans from other museums, and temporary acquisitions,” he said. But the heart of the collection includes works by David Smith, Mark Di Suvero, Alexander Calder, and Andy Goldsworthy. He will also highlight a number of other artists who are still actively working.

As for the artist whom Dr. Namerow most admires, “That would be Isamu Noguchi,” he said. “He has a fascinating background as a furniture maker, a designer, painter and sculptor. When Noguchi was brought to Storm King by Ralph Ogden, he was told to pick any spot that he fancied and then design a work that would fit into that spot.”

Noguchi selected the summit of what’s called Museum Hill—which has a view of almost all of Storm King—went back to his studio in Japan, and with his workers found boulders that he cut and sculpted and transported back to the United States by boat. He called the 40-ton work “Momo Taro.” It has become one of the most visited works at Storm King.

At Storm King, the way the pieces fit into the landscape is as important as each individual sculpture.

“We want people to come to Storm King and view sculptures that are unique and cannot be duplicated in a museum,” Dr. Namerow said. “That’s what makes Storm King so unique.”

Tours at Storm King have been suspended because of covid. “While this Sunday’s session will not be a substitute for visiting Storm King in person, I hope it will whet the appetites of those zooming with us,” Dr. Namerow said. “Hoping that covid will abate, I will encourage them to come up and visit with us when Storm King tours open again in the spring and see the collection in person.”

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