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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anne Frank Home Replica Debuts at Westport Playhouse

Anne Frank Home Replica Debuts at Westport Playhouse
(Appeared in Westport News w/o 9/26)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – A girl’s experience in Nazi Germany during World War II and a stage production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” inspired a noted local sculptor to create a large replica of the Anne Frank home that debuted today in the lobby of the Westport Country Playhouse. The display, a creation of a team of students from Bridgeport-based Neighborhood Studios (NS) under the direction of artist Steffi Friedman, was timed with the opening night of the production there.

Measuring 80 inches tall and 72 inches wide and weighing an estimated 450 pounds, the sculpture was transported by Marino Brothers, specialists in moving artwork, from a studio at the non-profit’s 510 Barnum Avenue headquarters to the Playhouse and installed late Tuesday morning. The artwork will sit in the lobby area for the entire performance run, September 28 – October 30.

Friedman, 85, is a volunteer sculpture teacher who gives her time and donates materials to NS, and led 20 students, ages 14-20, in the development of the replica. She was a teen in Berlin, Germany during WWII and escaped to Amsterdam two weeks before Kristallnacht, when in a single night in November 1938, Nazis mass-murdered 91 Jews and deported to concentration camps over 25,000 more.

“I lived the same life as Anne Frank,” said Friedman. “I was just luckier.” Indeed,
“The Diary of Anne Frank” tells the dramatic story of two years in Frank’s life when she and her family hid from the Nazis in a small Amsterdam attic. From Amsterdam, Friedman went to Panama for two years, then eventually to the U.S. She has lived in Westport for the past 52 years.

“I learned about the show a year ago,” explained the sculptor, about how she was inspired to do this piece, “and thought it would be amazing to create a replica. I bought 20 copies of the Diary and insisted that my students read it, as well as watch the film.”

Friedman created initial sketches, which she took to a local Home Depot to render in 3-D. The store cut out the base foundation from plywood, onto which Friedman’s group rolled clay (terra cotta) an inch-and-a-half thick. This was then designed, dried and fired in Friedman’s kiln for three days at 2,200 degrees.

“Each student got a project to illustrate a different aspect of the story of Anne Frank,” said Friedman. “We did a lot of research and had photographs from which to work. I also had the advantage of visiting Amsterdam last year to see the related museum.”

Scenes in the home replica include a family listening to foreign radio, which was forbidden; Anne writing her diary; the lighting of Chanukah candles; and the Frank family being led away to a concentration camp by a Dutch Nazi officer. A patina effect is used to simulate bronze, granite and metallics, to provide an authentic appearance to the structure.

Elisabeth Saxe, the Director of Institutional Advancement at the Playhouse, who was present for the sculpture’s arrival, said, “It’s a remarkable expression and emotional response to the reading of the Diary. The Playhouse is deeply moved that our programming was able to give rise to the creation of this work… and that we’re able to partner with Neighborhood Studios to welcome their students to the Playhouse and make them part of our family.”

The students that worked on this and their mothers are invited on October 23rd to attend the play and several will participate in a talk-back afterwards about their experience, informed Remy Joseph, Marketing Director at NS. On October 5th, the jazz ensemble from NS will perform period music from the 1930s and 40s at the Playhouse prior to the evening’s play.

NS was founded in 1977 as Music & Arts Center for the Handicapped, by Patricia Hart, a musician diagnosed with macular degeneration. She sought music lessons but couldn’t find anyone to teach a blind person. She discovered a universal need for this interaction. The school has grown to include music, art, dance and sculpture and is funded by private donations and federal and local government.

“The development process of this sculpture was just as rich as putting on a play,” said Michael Ross, Managing Director of the Playhouse. “To see these students… they were so intense and focused and hardly looked up as they worked. They collaborated like actors to tell this story.”