Frederick Franck, Who Explored Spirituality Through Art, Dies at 97
New York Times OBITUARIES Sunday, June 18 2006
By Dennis Hevesi
Frederick Franck, an artist and author whose sculptures, sketches, paintings and more than 30 books reflect a constant search for the core of spirituality, died on June 5 at his home in Warwick, NY, near a park dedicated to peace that he studded with his won works. He was 97.
The cause was congestive heart failure, his son, Lukas, said.
More than 70 of Mr. Franck’s works are exhibited at PACEM IN TERRIS, the six-acre sculpture park and meditation space that he and his wife of 46 years, Claske Franck built. I is on the site of an old stone grist mill by the “Wawayandang River, near their home 50 miles north of New York City.
Mr. Franck’s spare steel, glass and wood sculptures depicting mystical motifs stand in public spaces throughout the country, including four on the streets of the struggling Central Ward of Newark, NJ. Intended to symbolize rebirth, the Newark sculptures include a large-petaled flower with a red and gold stained glass center and a phoenix rising from its perch.
Painting and drawings by Mr. Franck are also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Among Mr. Franck’s books are “The Zen of Seeing-Seeing/Drawing as Meditation” (Alfred Knopf, 1973) “To be Human Against All the Odds” (Asian Humanities Press, 11991), and Now/Here” the story of his travels in Japan.
Frederick Sigfred Franck was born on April 12, 1909, the son of a shopkeeper in Maastricht, the Netherlands. He graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 1931 and earned a n earned a degree in dental surgery from the |Antwerp School of Dentistry in 1936.
Mr. Franck later told his son that as a 5 year old, at the outset of World War I he watched out the window of his home as g
German troops marched past, preceded by a stream of refugees. The war, he said, inspired a lifelong struggle to comprehend and portray human spirituality.
“It gave him a horror of war that is reflected in all of his writings and his artwork, “ Lukas Franck said.
In the mid-1930”, aware of the threat poised by the rise of the Nazis, Mr. Franck moved to England, then to ?Scotland where he earnedanother degree in dentistry, from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.
In 1939, he moved to the United States, where he worked as a dental surgeon at several hospitals. From 1946 to 1966, he intermittently practiced dentistry a few days a week in Manhattan.
In 1967, Mr and Mrs Franck traveled to Lambarene, Gabon where they worked with Dr. Albert Schweitzer for three years. There, Mr. Franck opened a dental clicni, though he spent much of his time sketching the jungle, people in a leper colony and Dr. Schweitzer.
His book, ‘My Days with Dr. Schweitzer” (Royal Fireworks Press, 1958) describes his stay in west Africa in words and drawings.
Three times in the early 1960’s the Francks traveled to Rome to witness the ecumenical council called by Pope John XXIII became of one of Mr. Franck’s seminal influences.
Pacem in Terris is dedicated to the pope, to Dr, Schweitzer and to Daisetz T. Suzuki, who is credited by many with having introduced Zen Buddhism to the West.
In 1959, the Francks bought the site that includes the former first mill, which had become an unofficial town dump. Over the decades, they transformed it into a sculpture garden and meditation space, which is open free of charge to the public during the summer.
Mr. Franck’s books, some of them written fro children, explore questions of comparative religion, spirituality as distint from religion, and art-at times a in the same volume.
In ‘The Zen of Seeing’, for example, he argues tht through meditation one can break through the perfunctory way of seesing things and focus on their essence, ant tht one way to do it is through drawing.
In ‘To be Human Against All Odds’ Mr. Franck maintains that to become truly human, the species must overcome its reptilian and mammalian heritage. The book is based on the research of neurobiologist Paul D. MacLean.
Mr. Franck was also and editor, with Janis Roze anad Richard Connolly of ;What Does it Mean to Be Human?’ (St. Martin’sPress 2000) that is a collection of essays by spiritual thinker, including the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias and Vaclav Havel.