Posted: May 28, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
George Mason Is Home to Art of Azriel and Irene Awret
By Robin Herron
Prominently displayed on the plaza between Mason Hall and the Center for the Arts, the bronze sculpture Communitas by artist Azriel Awret has become a centerpiece of sorts for George Mason, embodying its community spirit.
Photo by Evan Cantwell
In fact, the university owns seven works by Awret and his wife, Irene. Both are international artists and survivors of the Mechelen, Belgium, Gestapo camp during World War II.
Azriel Awret’s five sculptures at George Mason were commissioned by his brother Charles for the university. Charles Awret, who was president of Maywood Building Corporation in Springfield, Va., until his death in 1996, was a friend of Randolph Church, a member of the George Mason Board of Visitors from 1982 to 1990 and rector from 1983 to 1986. Church and his wife, Lucy, introduced the Awrets to George Mason and made arrangements for the commissioning of the sculptures.
Woman in a Hammock
Communitas was the third of Awret’s bronze sculptures to be installed on the Fairfax Campus. It was placed in 1992. The first was Woman in Hammock (1987), which is in the outdoor passageway between Robinson Hall A and B; then came The Cello Player and Two Musicians (1990), which are both in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall Lobby. Finally, The Marionette Master (1996), was placed near Cross Cottage and Mason Pond and dedicated in memory of Charles Awret.
The Cello Player
The George Mason Fund for the Arts, through the gifts of Arts Gala patrons, underwrote the site work and installation of the sculptures. The Fund and the Arts Gala Committee were founded and chaired by Joanne Johnson, wife of George W. Johnson, now George Mason President Emeritus. According to Randolph Church, Joanne Johnson was enthusiastic about the prospect of adding significant original bronze sculptures to the emerging campus, and the two worked with Azriel Awret to select themes that would be appropriate for selected sites at the university. The Churches and the Johnsons visited with the sculptor at his studio on many occasions during his work.
Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1910, Azriel Awret studied art in Ghent, Belgium. While interned at Mechelen, he met Irene Spicker, a native of Berlin. They were both assigned to the art workshop at the camp. After the war, they married and settled in Israel, where they helped form the Safed Artists’ Colony. They later established a home in Falls Church, Va., where they currently live.
In addition to sculpting, Azriel Awret has also painted and worked in ceramics. His art is in many private collections as well as those of the Milwaukee Art Institute and the Museum of Modern Art in Haifa, Israel. In this region, his installations include several in Maryland: two bronze fountains at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda; the bronze “Bear with Cub” at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Silver Spring; and outdoor bronzes at the Dalsheimer Youth Center in Baltimore. His art is also on display at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington and the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
The Marionette Master
Photos by Evan Cantwell
Irene Awret, a painter and ceramicist, studied art in Brussels, Belgium. She has collaborated with her husband on a number of ceramic murals installed in schools in the Washington, D.C., area. She also painted a watercolor of the Center for the Arts for the 1989 Arts Gala poster, which can still be seen in several offices on campus; the original watercolor is located in Mason Hall. Another work, a print of doves, is displayed in President Alan Merten’s office reception area.
Azriel and Irene Awret with Irene’s painting for the 1989 Arts Gala poster.
Photo by Steve Tuttle
Irene Awret’s artwork is in numerous collections in the United States and abroad, including the Mechelen Museum of Deportation and the Resistance and the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in Israel, where many of her sketches and paintings of camp detainees are displayed. Last month, her book, They’ll Have to Catch Me First: An Artist’s Coming of Age in the Third Reich, was published by the University of Wisconsin Press and Dryad Press and has been added to the University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. An article about Irene Awret and her book appeared in the Washington Post Style section yesterday.
The Churches have continued their relationship with George Mason. Among other activities, Lucy Church is a trustee of the George Mason University Foundation, and Randolph Church is a trustee emeritus. Looking back on the addition of the Awret art to the university collection, Randolph Church says, “The somewhat unlikely coming together of Charles, Azriel, and Irene Awret and George Mason University was another of those fortuitous intersections of time, place, talent, and opportunity that have so often stirred and enriched the life and development of this institution.”