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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 12:25 GMT
Sculptor's spirit returns home
Arthur Fleischmann in his studio
Arthur Fleischmann: From stone to Perspex
The family of renowned sculptor Arthur Fleischmann are helping to open a museum of his work in Slovakia, reports BBC News Online's Jackie Finlay.

Sculptor Arthur Fleischmann, a contemporary of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, was not a man to follow convention.

His professional career covered almost 70 years and spanned public and private work in Eastern Europe, South Africa, Bali, Australia and the UK.

Fleischmann's Perspex sculptures make use of light and water
His works are in major cities throughout the world and are probably familiar to many even if they do not realise it.

They include a piece carved from the largest block of acrylic in the world, unveiled by the Queen for the Silver Jubilee in 1977 at St Katharine's Dock, London, and the bronze Explorer Doors at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney.

Respected in the world of sculpture, he spent his life travelling and gaining new experiences, but never managed to make it back home to his birthplace, Slovakia.

Now his family - wife Joy and son Dominique - are preparing to open a museum in his name in the house in which he grew up, at 6 Biel a Ulice, Bratislava.

There are two stories behind this unassuming project - the first of the sculptor with a zest for life, the second of the decade-long struggle his family faced to bring his dream of a museum to fruition.

Trevor Howard's bust
Trevor Howard's bust is on display at the National Portrait Gallery

"My father died just before the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1990. A few months later I visited Bratislava out of a sense of curiosity," say Dominique.

"Slowly it dawned on me how much I didn't know about my father. He really had a remarkable life and I began to think that people should have the opportunity to learn about his adventures in life and sculpture.

"By pursuing this project to set up the museum I am discovering who my father really was, and in turn, who I really am. "

Born in Bratislava in 1896, Arthur Fleischmann trained first as a doctor before enlisting to study sculpture at the Prague Academy and then Vienna.

He stayed in Vienna but, as Hitler came to power in next-door Germany, he feared for his safety as a Jew.

Balinese dancer
Fleischmann was most inspired by his time in Bali
So he used his medical training to join the Viennese ice hockey team as team doctor, and went with them to South Africa, leaving the troubles in Europe behind.

In 1938, he moved to Bali, out of a sense of adventure - a time which was one of the happiest of his life and a tremendous source of inspiration for his work.

"As a five-year-old I remember my father talking with such enthusiasm about his time in Bali before the war," says Dominique.

"It made such deep impression on me that when a teacher asked me where my father was from I replied without hesitating that he was Balinese."

But Fleischmann had to leave Bali when the Japanese invaded and left for Australia in 1939 - on the last KLM flight out.

In Sydney he quickly became an established and leading member of a fledgling artistic community, founding the Merioola Group artists' colony and creating several public works of art.

Fleischmann's last work was a depiction of DNA
By the time he left in 1948, he was seen as "a strong influence on the work of contemporary Sydney sculptors", having done "much to elevate the depressed status of sculpture in New South Wales".

On the move again, he came to England in an attempt to move back to Bratislava. But as prepared for the final leg of the journey, the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague - and he was thwarted.

In England in the 1950s he became involved in the public sculpture movement in post-war London - and finally married, to Cecile Joy in 1955.

"It's very unusual for a sculptor to travel so much. A painter can travel, but a sculptor needs materials," Joy told BBC News Online.

But it was in England that Fleischmann finally put down roots.

Fleischmann in studio
He continued working until two weeks before his death aged 93
As well as several pieces of public art, he sculpted portraits - from celebrities like Trevor Howard, Joan Collins, Barrie Humphreys (as Dame Edna Everage), to four popes, including John Paul II, from life.

Fleischmann had been working with Perspex since 1949, but in the 1970s, his work took on a new focus when he was sponsored to work in the material.

The resulting geometric sculptures took on an amazing quality when lit or when water played through them.

He has had an amazing life - it's only now I'm realising it

Joy Fleischmann
His last work, showing him modern to the last, was Homage to the Discovery of DNA, a water-fountain in Perspex, which was unveiled in the State Library, New South Wales after his death in 1990.

When Dominique Fleischmann, now 40, first went to Bratislava that year, he was amazed to discover that his father was virtually unknown there.

Joy Fleischmann with a bust of son Dominic
Joy Fleischmann with a bust of son Dominic when a baby
He found his father's old house - which was in very bad condition, but contained ancient frescos and was near a library and little theatre in the centre of Bratislava.

He encountered a number of bureaucratic difficulties as he started to piece together his father's early life.

But with the help of a curator at the City Museum of Bratislava, Dr Zuzana Francova, he unearthed about six or eight of his father's sculptures from other museums in the city.

By 1996 they had found more than 20, with some found in Vienna and some even in Bratislava Castle.

The resulting exhibition in 1996 inspired Joy and Dominique to open a permanent museum in the city, again with the help of the City Museum.

The intervening years have been spent getting official permission to use the house for the museum, finding sponsorship and patronage.

Joan Collins
Joan Collins sat for the sculptor as a young dancer
The Mayor of Bratislava gave his seal of approval when he personally donated a Fleischmann sculpture found earlier this year in a local antique shop.

The family are now sending some 30 pieces from their north London home to join those already there, as well as videos of Fleischmann at work, drawings and some of his tools.

The museum is set to open on 5 June, 2002, - Fleischmann's birthday.

"He saw no conflict between doing a traditional portrait and something more unusual," said Joy.

"He has had an amazing life. It's only now I'm realising it."

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