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This article is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

From the Burgess Archive (03)

A sculpture by Milton Hebald
Andrew Biswell
Photograph © International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Photograph © International Anthony Burgess Foundation

This terracotta bust of Anthony Burgess was completed by the American artist Milton Hebald on 15 August 1970. It appears on the dust jackets of Burgess’s two volumes of autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God (1987) and You’ve Had Your Time (1990), and for many years it stood alongside a Steinway piano in his house at Bracciano in Italy. The head appears fleetingly on screen in Make It New, a film about James Joyce and Igor Stravinsky presented by Burgess and broadcast on Swedish television in 1982. In the same year Burgess published a novel, The End of the World News, in which a fictional sculpture by Hebald is glimpsed in an elegant New York apartment.

Liana Burgess first met Milton Hebald when he had a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome in the mid-1950s. At this time she was married to her first husband, a translator called Benjamin Johnson. Liana resumed her friendship with Hebald when she and Burgess moved to Rome from Malta in 1970, and they became neighbours soon afterwards when the Burgesses bought a house in Bracciano, a medieval town on the shores of a volcanic lake, about an hour north of Rome by train.

Hebald set down his recollections of Burgess in an unpublished memoir: ‘Burgess kept the conversation going over clouds of cigar smoke and glasses of Spumante. He had such a diversity of projects to do: a novel, a musical comedy on Ulysses, words and music; a translation of Rostand’s Cyrano.’

Born in New York to Polish immigrants, Hebald enrolled at the age of ten at the School Art League, where a life model protested: ‘I can’t pose for a boy like that. Why, I’ve got a son at home older than he is.’ He is best known for the life-size statue of James Joyce which was installed at the Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich in 1966. He was also responsible for one of the largest sculptures in the world: the 220-foot ‘Zodiac Screen’, commissioned by Pan-American Airlines for its terminal at JFK Airport in New York. His other public works include ‘Olympiad’, made for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

When Frank Getlein published his book about Hebald in 1971, Burgess reviewed it for the New York Times. ‘It is the fate of the sculptor,’ he wrote, ‘unless he is quirky like holed Moore and attenuated Giacometti or tarred and feathered like Epstein, to be anonymous. This may excuse Joyceans who, moved by the Joyce statue in the Zurich graveyard, do not know that Milton Hebald made it.’

In 2004 Hebald retired to Los Angeles, where he continued his long-established routine of sculpting every day. He died in January 2015, aged 97.

This article is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

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