Society of Fellows


SOF News July & August 2014

Milton Hebald, Zodiac Screen, 1960
Photo: Pan Am
Milton Hebald works on Zodiac Screen in his studio at the Academy, ca. 1958
Photo: The Milton Hebald Trust, Copyright 2011
Milton Hebald with filmmaker Linda Carfagno who is working on a documentary of his life
Ron and Suzanne Dirsmith, Grounds of Playboy Mansion West, 1970s
Ron and Suzanne Dirsmith, The Grotto Spa Concept
Dirsmith Group
Ron and Suzanne Dirsmith, Playboy Mansion Grotto
Jeffrey Schiff, Destinations II at South Station, Boston,1995/2014
Photo courtesy of the artist
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Milton Hebald's Zodiac Screen, Ron and Suzanne Dirsmith's work with Hugh Hefner, Jeffrey Schiff's work in Boston 

A Fellow's Famous Mid-Century Sculpture Languishes in Storage

In the late 1950s irrepressible sculptor Milton Hebald, FAAR 1959, was commissioned to make a massive public sculpture for the glass facade of the new Pan American Airways Worldport Terminal at JFK (then Idlewild) Airport. Zodiac Screen consists of 12 bronze sculptures, each a sign of the zodiac. 220 feet long and 24 feet high, it was considered the largest sculpture in the world.  One writer pointed out that it would have been the first piece of American public art seen by the Beatles when they arrived in New York in 1964. 

The work was done in his studio at the Academy during his fellowship years 1956-1959, was cast in Rome then shipped to New York. He talks about the process in a short interview. The terminal opened on May 24, 1960, Hebald’s 43rd birthday.

He loved Italy and stayed for another 40 years. He and his wife, artist Cecille Rosner, had a house in Bracciano where they lived, worked, and entertained friends and distinguished guests. She died in 1998; he returned to the US in 2004 when he was 87 and now lives in California. 

Zodiac Screen was removed from the facade of Worldport in 1990 when Pan Am went bankrupt and Delta Airlines took over the terminal. It was put in the care of the Port Authority and is said to be stored in an unused hangar at JFK. This article from the Pam Am Historical Foundation gives details. 

Inevitably, Worldport was deemed expendable. JFK needed more room to park planes. Many tried to save it; the National Trust named it one of the Eleven Most Endangered Places in 2013, but it was demolished last year. There is a memorial page on Facebook. The 12 sculptures have not been forgotten. One Facebook member writes, "...wouldn't it be nice to display the Milton Hebald Zodiac alongside the New York State Pavilion near the Queens Museum of Art?" Great idea. Milton Hebald will be 100 in 2017. What a birthday present that would be.

The Academy-Playboy Connection

In “The Birth of a Dream,” published online last month, architect Ron Dirsmith, FAAR 1960 and his wife Suzanne Dirsmith tell the fascinating story of how they became Hugh Hefner’s favorite architects, and how they ended up designing the grounds and private living spaces of one of the most famous “playgrounds” in the world. They started by designing Playboy’s corporate offices in Chicago, then the interior of Hefner’s corporate jet “Big Bunny.” When Hefner bought a mansion in Los Angeles, he brought them in to design the landscapes including pools, ponds, and the notorious Cave of Fantasies. The editors of Aqua Magazine say "Hefner’s Xanadu remains one of the great achievements in residential design." 

They based it all on Italy of course. As they contemplated the mansion grounds by helicopter they remembered “that one of Hefner’s young female friends had mentioned the pool at Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome, which cued us to recall our own first visit to that Villa, where we had been mesmerized by the great Canopus pool surrounded by a colonnade of marvelous Greek and Roman statuary and immense thermal baths, arcaded courts, terraced gardens and fish ponds. Might any of those elements be replicated below?” Read on….   

Eric Nathan
New SOF member, composer Eric Nathan, FAAR 2014, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He will be Visiting Assistant Professor in Composition at the Williams College Department of Music for the 2014-15 academic year. Read more of his news here.

Jeffrey Schiff
Jeffrey Schiff, FAAR 1977, has reconfigured and reinstalled his 1995 installation Destinations at South Station Railroad Terminal in Boston. Destinations II is constructed of steel, steel cable, and cast bronze. The monumental piece is 17 feet high by 91 feet square. The project was commissioned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Federal Railroad Commission.