As skaters make their way to the rink, unfazed by the weight of their bags or the rhythmic tapping of sticks with their stride, Sheldon Aptekar hopes they stop and notice the sculpture garden. In fact, all visitors to the Freeport Recreation Center are encouraged to experience the Mytho-Fantastical Sculpture Garden on display until March 31, designed by Aptekar, a North Woodmere artist, former theater director, and retired professor from Kingsborough Community College.
The sculptures, originally designed for his grandchildren, are inspired by nature and his imagination. Chunks of wood, fallen branches, and pieces of pinecones create the foundation for each piece; not carved to create something new, but sculpted to enhance what Aptekar initially saw in the raw element.
“With a piece of wood it says to me there is a knot, and a knot is an eye, and the eye is a part of a tongue, and the tongue is part of a head,” said Aptekar, describing the creation of “Mandarin Duck.” “It all fits together, it’s organically connected.”
Aptekar prefers the “organic approach” to art, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural theory that a “house should grow out of the ground” and furthered by an interest in life and the environment. All the sculptures are eco-friendly. If not maintained, everything from the varnish to the paint will disappear and the piece will “turn back to nature.”
Along with wood, Aptekar often works with soapstone, and other mixed media. Mainly relying on hand tools, he works through clouds of dust and painful arthritis.
“He’s fun,” said Marnie Katzman, Executive Director of the Long Island Arts Council at Freeport. “He’s so much fun and he’s so passionate about his work. It’s very obvious in everything that he does. We spent hours and hours working together setting up this exhibit, he wanted it to be just so. And he’s right because he did a beautiful job.”
In 2006, Aptekar was selected as a three-year panelist for the New York State Council of the Arts: Nassau Grants for the Arts at Freeport. Both the Arts Council and Aptekar agree the Recreation Center is a great venue to spark community interest as well as heighten the awareness of art on the South Shore.
“We try to expose people to the arts even though they’re coming into a recreation center and they might be swimming or ice skating they’re still exposed to the art around them,” said Katzman.
The council sees this exhibit as a great way to reach viewers of all ages and show art is everywhere, from paintings on the wall of your house to the pinecones scattered at your feet.
“I think there’s whimsy,” said Aptekar. “There’s humor in what I do. All the pieces have some humor to it. They are all bizarre. Nothing is real, it is all a fantasy.”
One part of the artistic process Aptekar really enjoys is naming his creations. Titles such as “Daffy Dinoraptor,” “Galloping Serpentine,” “Perplexed Minotaur,” and “Dodo Harpy/The Flying Ditz” arise from the sculpture’s appearance and the artist’s experience in its creation.
“The Dinoraptor is a raptor because those spikes are sharp and I was skewered making it,” said Aptekar. “I leaned and twisted my arm around and got cut by one.”
Aptekar grew up in Brooklyn and began as a biology major at Brooklyn College. A waning interest in science and a chance selection as a chorus member in a production of “Oedipus the King” sparked interest in the arts. “I didn’t want to be an actor, but I wanted to learn more about what was going on and that’s what turned me around and I became a theater major.”
After a long career in the theater and teaching, Aptekar now concentrates on art and is often commissioned to make unique pieces.
His website, www.APTKreations.com, displays his mixed media artwork and provides contact information. In addition to art, Aptekar is recognized for his impact on the research of Green Sea Turtles and his observations are accessible at www.tortugawatch.com.
One of many South Shore artists, Aptekar stresses how the area does not get enough credit for the creative work that is produced. "We prefer it to have its own inheritance and heritage."