Just about everybody in Jersey City has heard of the Katyn Monument, which honors Polish citizens massacred by the Soviet Red Army in 1940. Many are aware of the controversy over possibly moving it from its longtime home at Exchange Place. But how many have heard of the artist who sculpted it? His name is Andrew Pitynski, and Rory Pasquariello talked with him about how this dramatic piece of art came into being.
Rory Pasquariello: How long have you lived in the United States?
Andrew Pitynski: Forty-five years. I am 72 years old. I came to the U.S.A. in 1974 after I received my Master’s degree in Sculpture from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. I became a U.S. citizen in 1987.
RP: How long have you lived in New Jersey?
AP: Forty years. I started working for the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture of Hamilton, New Jersey in 1979. I am the supervisor of the Modeling, Enlarging, Mold Making and Resin departments. I was a sculpture instructor for Rider University from 1992 to 1997, and Rutgers University from 1997 to 2002.
RP: Why did you leave Poland?
AP: My family was persecuted by the Communists in Poland. During World War II my parents fought against German Nazis, and then the Soviet Red Army. My parents were both wounded in a battle in Kurylowka, Poland, on May 6, 1945.
After the war, patriots continued to fight against the Communist regime. The war for Poland’s freedom continued with the Solidarity movement in the 1980s and beyond.
My second reason for coming to the U.S. was to learn the best technology for casting bronze for sculpture. Sculptors came from all over the world to the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture to learn the latest American metal casting technology.
RP: Where did you make the sculpture?
AP: At the Johnson Atelier, from 1989 to 1991. I made many of my monuments and commissions there for the U.S., Poland, Italy, and South Africa. [For a full list, visit groundsforsculpture.org.]
RP: How much does the sculpture weigh?
AP: Eight tons for the bronze sculpture and 60 tons for the granite base.
RP: How long did it take you to make it?
AP: More than four years. The bronze sculpture, 14 feet high, represents a Polish officer, bound, gagged, and stabbed in the back with a Soviet bayonet. It stands on a granite base 24 feet high by 6 feet by 6 feet on top of pyramidal concrete with steps covered in granite slabs. On the front of the base is a bronze relief of the Polish Army Eagle. The relief is an urn which contains the remains from the Katyn Forest Massacre site. Below the bronze relief the words “Katyn – 1940,” are carved into the granite. Below that is the bronze relief dedicated to the millions of Poles who died in the Siberian gulags, “Siberia – 1939.” On the sides of the base are bronze plaques, with the Polish eagle and the American eagle bearing descriptions of the Katyn Massacre in Polish and English.
In 1987 the foundation was blessed. The granite base was blessed in 1988. The bronze urn relief was mounted to the base in 1989, and the plaques were attached to the base in 1990, the 50th anniversary of the massacre. In 1991 when the sculpture was installed on top of the granite base it was the greatest of celebrations. In 1992 the Siberian relief was installed. People kneeled on the concrete around the monument, and many cried, even the army officers, as they remembered the Polish women, children, infants, and elderly who perished in Siberia.
RP: What’s involved in making the sculpture?
AP: The monument committee finds the money to pay for the construction and find the site. The committee was Christopher Nowak, president; Stanley Paszul, Josef Plonski, Captain Lucien Rutkowski, Stanley Wolf, Captain Winowski, Lieutenant Sosulski, Father Zubik, Colonel Nadolczak, Lieutenant Morawski, Zofia Rutkowski, and Colonel Podbielski. The members were veterans. Some were wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino. Some were Siberian exiles and members of the Polish Underground Army. They never questioned my design because they knew it was a monument to the truth! Today, a monument can be a tree, some rock, or the name of a school or almost anything. For me, a memorial will always be a monumental bronze composition in the classic tradition.
I first have to have an inspiration. Then I draw, and then model it in a small three-dimensional sketch in plastilene or plaster. I develop the sketch into a maquette in the scale of 1:4. From my maquette I enlarge the sculpture to the finished model 1:1 in plastilene or plaster. Once the model at the monumental scale is accepted by all involved, it goes to the foundry to be cast in bronze. Rubber molds are made from the plastilene model, then waxes are cast from the rubber molds. The waxes are sprued and then coated in a ceramic shell, which is fired in a kiln, and the wax is “lost” when it drains out, leaving the hollow shells into which is poured the 2000-degree molten bronze. Once the castings are cool, the ceramic shell is broken off the bronze casts and assembled into the final form by welding. The patina is applied to the surface of the bronze using heat and chemicals.
RP: How was the sculpture moved to Jersey City?
AP: It was transported in one piece on a tractor trailer from the Johnson Atelier in Hamilton to the monument site in Jersey City. It involved a big crane. The installation took two days.
RP: Why does the sculpture face north?
AP: In the early morning the sunlight hits the chest of the officer with the bayonet, and later the sunlight concentrates on the Soviet rifle in the back of the officer. The sunlight is part of the monument.
RP: Were there other locations besides Exchange Place in Jersey City that you considered?
AP: No. We received this site from the Mayor of Jersey City, Anthony Cucci. I designed the monument for this location. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were destroyed, I created a bronze bas relief which was attached to the granite base. The terrorist attack on the United States changed the world forever. More than 3,000 people perished. I’ll never forget the image of the “Katyn – 1940” monument with the Twin Towers in flames behind it. Helpless people jumping from the windows of the burning towers, it was a terrible nightmare, but it was reality!
To honor the victims of the terrorist attack, I created the bas relief in bronze which was attached to the front of the base. The relief shows the burning towers being embraced by the Madonna of New York City. This relief shows where the Twin Towers once stood on the horizon of Manhattan. If you look at the image on the relief and then at the silhouette of the skyscrapers of Manhattan, you can see the exact space where the World Trade Center Towers once stood so proudly. Never Forget!
RP: How is the historical moment relevant today for people without Polish family?
AP: In the Katyn Massacre not only Poles died but Ukrainians, Belorussians, Armenians, Jews, Tartars, all who were officers in the Polish Army. One who died was the chief rabbi of the Polish Army, Colonel Baruch Steinberg. The monument is a message to people all over the world, and to future generations to never forget, and to fight Nazism and Communism. The monument is an interesting sculptural composition, but it’s also a tuning fork of feeling. If viewers can feel this sculpture, it embraces them and opens the truth. A good monument will make someone remember it for his or her entire life. Monuments are like humans; they are born, they live, and they die. Only time is forever.
RP: Last year an attempt to move the statue to a different part of the city sparked controversy, especially in the Polish community. Some people said it was too “grotesque” for public view, or for children to see.
AP: People said what they wanted to say; there is free speech. But it doesn’t mean that they are right. This monument is not for Mickey Mouse. If someone calls this monument grotesque, what would he call the hundreds of Holocaust monuments in America and all over the world? What would he call masterpieces from the history of art such as those by Goya, Donatello or Picasso’s Guernica, and even sculptures of Jesus Christ crucified on the cross?
RP: How would you feel if they moved it?
AP: Do you know something that I don’t know? If you know, then tell me. The monument should stay where it is standing right now in Jersey City. But if we have to fight again, we will fight to the last drop of our blood. We will fight for our freedom and yours.—JCM