46-ft. bronze sculpture planned for Inner Harbor

June 10, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Soaring 46 feet into the sky over the Inner Harbor, it would be Baltimore's loftiest sculpture.

Baltimoreans of Polish ancestry have commissioned the ambitious abstract bronze by a Polish sculptor to honor 15,000 Polish army officers and intellectuals imprisoned and killed by the Soviet secret police in 1940. The sculptor, Andrzej Pitynski, is donating his time and labor, but the Baltimore group is attempting to raise $300,000 to cover other costs of the project.

More than 4,000 of the officers were found massacred -- many of them after torture -- in Poland's Katyn forest. The mass graves of some 10,000 more were discovered near Kiev, Ukraine. In 1990, dTC then-Soviet General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility. And last year, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin issued a public apology.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has tentatively approved a site for the monumental work. Its jagged, outstretched, embracing concave wings -- symbolizing the irresistible force of liberty -- would rise 30 feet from a 16-foot granite pedestal in a landscaped circle to be created where the southern end of President Street meets the western end of Aliceanna.

Commemorating the sacrifice of fighters for Poland's freedom has been a goal of the sculptor's life and art since childhood. It is personal and deeply felt. Mr. Pitynski's parents and uncle were part of the Polish underground in World War II. As an infant shortly after the war, he was in his grandmother's arms when she was shot fatally by Soviet police. He was imprisoned by the Communists for a time.

"This is a gift from me," the sculptor said recently from his studio in Mercerville, N.J. "I feel it is my duty to do it." His many previous commissions have won praise from artists and politicians.

Mr. Pitynski, 47, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Poland, and at the Art Students League in New York. He has exhibited in museums and galleries in this country and abroad.

His outdoor sculptures grace churches in New York and Trenton, N.J., a shrine in Doylestown, Pa., the public library of Bayonne, N.J., a park in Jersey City.

One of his most admired and compelling works, a 34-foot-long parade of gaunt horsemen titled "Partisans," was unveiled to cheers in Boston Common in 1983.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the two U.S. senators from Maryland, as well as Baltimore's mayor, are honorary chairmen of the committee seeking to bring Mr. Pitynski's art to the Inner Harbor. Committee members include Reps. Helen Delich Bentley and Benjamin L. Cardin, state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski and Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

Maryland's Council 21 of the Polish National Alliance -- nearly 1,000 strong -- is behind the effort.

All that remains to be done is to raise $300,000, said Alfred B. Wisniewski, seemingly undaunted by the challenge. He heads the Katyn Memorial Fund, founded in 1990.

About $50,000 has been given or pledged, mostly in small amounts by local contributors, said Mr. Wisniewski, who estimated that 200,000 people of Polish ancestry now live in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Nearly 12,000 Poles have moved here since the fall of communism, he said.

Serious national fund raising -- targeting foundations, corporations and possible major individual contributors -- is about to begin.

Working out of a rent-free store front at 520 S. Broadway, with a plaster model of the sculpture in the window, volunteers such as Mr. Wisniewski and Josephine Kowzan, Jerzy and Barbara Miegon, Stella Spies and John Balicki and Thomas L. Hollowak are keeping alive the dream of a friend, the late Clement Knefel.

A retired U.S. Army major who died in 1992, he had planted the seeds of the Baltimore memorial long before the Gorbachev acknowledgment of Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre. Major Knefel began collecting money for a monument to Polish patriots nearly 20 years ago.

According to Mr. Hollowak, an archivist at the University of Baltimore Library, the Katyn committee now sees its purpose as broader than honoring the 15,000 officers.

Recalling that Soviet forces invaded Poland Sept. 17, 1939, as allies of the Germans, Mr. Hollowak said, "We will also commemorate the unspeakable sufferings of the Polish men, women and children who, at the hands of the Soviets and Nazis, were sent to concentration camps or deported to the Soviet Union and Germany, where they often died from starvation and torture.

"This monument will remind us that such crimes must never be allowed to happen again."

Mr. Pitynski said he plans to fashion a foot-tall replica in bronze, which he and the committee members hope to present to John Paul II, the Polish pope, when he visits Baltimore Oct. 23.

Mr. Wisniewski's brother, Stan Wisniewski, who teaches art and art history at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pa., has given the committee this helpful interpretation of the design:

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