Sitting with the Stars: The Delightful World of Polish Bench Statues
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small, Sitting with the Stars:
The Delightful World of Polish Bench Statues, Tadeusz Różewicz in front of the graduation towers in Konstancin, 2008 – not a monument, just sitting on a bench, photo: Janusz Drzewucki, tadeusz rozewicz portrety 7_5988738.jpg
Traditional monuments are not en vogue any more. More and more, statues of important figures are less often found on pedestals and more often… on simple benches.
The Poets' Bench in Tarnów
On 3rd December 2004, on Wałowa Street in Tarnów, the ‘Poet’s Bench’ was unveiled. The idea of putting it there came from the City Library and the Culture Department of Tarnów Town Hall. The bench is built around a tree and looks out in four different directions, with bronze cast figures of Polish poets sitting on three of its’ sides. The poets, namely Zbigniew Herbert, Agnieszka Osiecka and Jan Brzechwa, were selected by library readers in a poll. Next to each figure stand metal boxes with volumes of their poetry. The bench was designed by Jacek Kucaba, a sculptor from Tarnów. The unveiling was accompanied by a concert, hosted by Polish singer, actress and director, Magda Umer.
Halina Poświatowska's bench in Częstochowa
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The bench-statue of the Polish poet and writer Halina Poświatowska was unveiled on the 40th anniversary of the poet’s death, on 11th October 2007. The bench stands near the Pilgrimage Museum in the city of Częstochowa – the birthplace of Poświatowska. The sculptor Robert Sobociński captured Poświatowska in bronze. She sits on a park bench. A cat sits at her feet. The monument was unveiled by her brother Zbigniew Myga and Mayor Tadeusz Wrona.
Fryderyk Chopin’s bench in Havana
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A bench in memory of Fryderyk Chopin was unveiled on 11th December 2010 on Plaza de San Francisco de Assisi in the capital of Cuba. Renovation work on Piaza Vieja began in late 1990s, and in result most of the buildings surrounding the plaza, including the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, have been thoroughly renovated. There are many cafés around, and a white fountain located in the middle of the plaza catches the eye. Chopin’s bench was created by Adam Myjak and its inauguration was one of the most important chords of the closing of the Chopin Year in 2010.
Marek Grechuta’s bench in Opole
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A sitting figure of Marek Grechuta was unveiled on 22nd October 2008, at Plac Kopernika (Copernicus Square), on University Hill in Opole. The author of the sculpture is Wit Pichurski, a graduate of Sculpture Faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków and a lecturer at the University of Opole. The cast was made by Wiktor Chalupczok. The initiator of the idea to celebrate the singer, songwriter, composer and poet, Marek Grechuta was historian, Prof. Sławomir Nicieja. On the bench’s backrest, there are vines, a reminder of the title of one of Grechuta’s songs Entangled in Wild Wine.
Benches in memory of Jan Karski
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A series of benches in memory of the Polish resistance fighter, hero Jan Karski, who tried to warn the Polish Government-in-Exile and Poland's Western Allies about the Holocaust, were sculpted by Karol Bedyba between 2002 and 2009. The first bench in the series was unveiled in 2002 in Washington D.C., on the campus of Georgetown University, where he studied after the war, received a PhD, and went on to lecture. The second bench stands in the Polish city of Kielce, while the third Karski bench was unveiled on Polish Independence Day in 2007, near the corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street in New York City. The site where it stands was also renamed ‘Jan Karski Corner’. The fourth bench ‘sits’ in Łódź, on top of the Memorial Mound in the Survivors’ Park, while the fifth has its place on the premises of Tel Aviv University. The last, sixth bench, stands next to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
Nikifor’s bench in Krynica
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The bench in memory of one of the world's finest naïve painters Nikifor Krynicki (Epifaniy Drovnyak), was unveiled in Krynica on 9th September 2005.The first Nikifor monument building committee was formed in the 1990s, chaired by Miron Mykhailyshin, the prelate of the Greek Orthodox parish in the town of Krynica. The monument was to be commissioned to Serhij Oleshko, a sculptor from Lviv. However, due to a lack of funds, it was never erected.
In 2004, after the premiere of My Nikifor, a movie directed by Krzysztof Krauze, Marian Włosiński, Nikifor’s guardian, came up with a new initiative. This time, the creation of the monument coincided with the anniversary of Nikifor’s 110th birthday. The monument was designed by Prof. Czesław Dźwigaj, a sculptor from Kraków. His project was selected by a Polish-Lemko jury of seven from three designs, the other two by Serhij Oleshko and by Mikhail Kolodko. The monument features a statue of the painter seated with a paintbrush in his hand, accompanied by a dog. The Lemko Society endorsed the initiative. The municipality supported it and covered part of its costs. Prof. Czesław Dźwigaj resigned from any compensation for the design and promised to cover some of the costs of building the monument. A Nikifor monument designed by Serhij Oleshko, on the other hand, was unveiled in Lviv in 2006, at Musejna Square, next to the Cathedral of the Dominican Monastery.
Czesław Niemen’s bench in Świebodzin
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Legendary singer-songwriter Czesław Niemen’s bench in the town of Świebodzin is located on John Paul II Square. It was unveiled on 20th June 2009, with the artist’s family present. The idea to erect a bench commemorating the popular singer came from the Czesław Niemen Memorial Association. Funds were provided by Świebodzin municipality and county authorities, as well as by several private sponsors. The monument was designed and built by Robert Sobociński. The figure of Czesław Niemen sits comfortably on the bench, with musical notes behind him.
Jimi Hendrix's bench in Dąbrowa Górnicza
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This bench in Dąbrowa Górnicza was designed by Andrzej Szczepański. Located near the city centre, it stands close the monument commemorating the Heroes of Red Banners. In 1990, a decision was made to blow up the monument, built in 1970. Holes for explosives had already been drilled when the youth of Dąbrowa Górnicza renamed the sculpture ‘in memory of musicians Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain’. A plaque was put up on the plinth, reading: ‘To Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. Make love not war. War is over. For all those who love freedom’. Despite the fact that it was supposed to be disposed of, the monument survived and remains a central meeting place in today’s Dąbrowa Górnicza. In 2012, a bronze sculpture of Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar on a bench was placed next to the stone monument. It was unveiled by doppelgängers of Lech Wałęsa, Chuck Norris and Elvis Presley.
Wisława Szymborska’s bench in Kórnik
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Wisława Szymborska never wanted monuments erected in her honour. But her hometown just couldn’t help itself. In Kórnik, the town where the Nobel laureate was born, one can walk down Wisława Szymborska Promenade and sit on a bench with her likeness. Her bench was unveiled on 29th June 2013, just a few days before her 90th birthday.
Szymborska was born on 2nd July 1923 in Kórnik, where her father Wincenty Szymborski worked as the administrator of the property of Count Władysław Zamoyski. After the poet was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996, a memorial plaque was placed on the wall of the building in which the Szymborski family once lived. Her 90th birthday celebrations mobilised the authorities in her birth town to build the memorial bench. Designed by Piotr Mastalerz and Dawid Szafrański, the Nobel Prize-winner is joined by a cat from her famous poem entitled A Cat in an Empty Apartment. Szymborska is smiling and standing next to the bench, wearing a coat and a hat. In her right hand, she holds a sheet of paper with the poem’s title, while some fragments of the poem can be found on the sheets on which the cat is sitting. This is the first Wisława Szymborska monument in the world.
Father Jan Twardowski’s bench in Warsaw
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The monument commemorating the poet and Catholic priest Jan Twardowski is situated on the beautiful Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw. The figure, cast in bronze by Wojciech Gryniewicz, took seven months to make and weighs 380 kg. The monument, aside from the figure of Jan Twardowski in bronze, has a special button which one can press to listen to recordings of poems, recited by the author himself. A quotation from one of them is cited on the bench: ‘You can go away forever, to always be close’. The monument was unveiled on 10th October 2013 by Jacek Michałowski, the Head of the Chancellery of the Polish President at the time, and by Jacek Wojciechowicz, the then vice-President of Warsaw.
Bolesław Prus's bench in Nałęczów
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This monument to Polish author Bolesław Prus in Nałęczów was unveiled on 20th October 2002. It is the work of a father-son duo from the Greater Poland Voievodeship. The bench is situated in Zdrojowy Park, in front of the Małachowski Palace. Prus was known to have vacationed in Nałęczów for 28 years. It was here that he wrote three of his novels – The Doll, The New Woman and The Outpost. For the latter, he gathered materials in nearby villages. He also wrote weekly chronicles in Nałęczów, which made the resort famous all over Poland. Even before the bench monument was erected, Nałęczów had commemorated the writer with a monument in Zdrojowy Park. Nearby, the Małachowski Palace houses the onlyMuseum of Bolesław Prus in Poland, opened in 1961 with a large collection of his works and personal memorabilia.
Józef Mehoffer’s bench in Turek
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The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the town of Turek had its polychromes, oil paintings and stained glass windows designed by the renowned painter Józef Mehoffer. He was even made a honourary citizen of the town. The designer of Mehoffer’s bench is Maja Brzystka; she created it as part of her master’s degree from the Koło Art School. The monument is a manifestation of Turek’s promotional strategy, pursued with the slogan: ‘Turek – a town with Mehofferean atmosphere’. The bench is the first monument in Poland commemorating the artist.
Agnieszka Osiecka’s bench in Warsaw
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The Warsaw monument commemorating the poet and songwriter Agnieszka Osiecka is located in the district of Saska Kępa, on the corner of Francuska and Obrońców streets. It was unveiled on 19th May 2007 at the Saska Kępa Festival. Made by Dariusz Kowalska and Teresa Kowalska the sculpture was cast in Starachowice after a year of preparatory work. It shows the poet sitting at a table, with her legs crossed, wearing a skirt and high-heels, with hair pinned up, and looking straight ahead. Scattered on the table in front of her are several pages with lyrics from her songs. The sculpture is situated in front of the Rue de Paris café premises, so anyone can join Osiecka at her table. But when Osiecka was alive, this location actually housed a pharmacy. The artist did frequent cafés nearby though – mainly the Sax at 31 Francuska Street and Café Sułtan on Obrońców Street.
Gustaw Holoubek’s bench in Międzyzdroje
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The Międzyzdroje monument-bench commemorating actor Gustaw Holoubek is the work of Michał Selerowski, a sculptor and graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He is also the creator of two other benches – Hanka Bielicka’s in Łomża and Dr Józef Psarski’s in Ostrołęka. Holoubek’s bench in Międzyzdroje was unveiled on 3rd July 2008 in the presence of his wife, the actress Magdalena Zawadzka and his son, the film director Jan Holoubek. The monument features Gustaw Holoubek resting on a bench on the sea-front promenade. The actor’s autograph is engraved on the bench’s backrest.
Stefan Żeromski’s bench in Siedlce
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On 12th May 2011 in Siedlce, in front of the town library, a bench was unveiled in memory of Stefan Żeromski – a writer, social activist and librarian connected with the town. In his youth, he worked as a tutor on the Łysowo estate near Siedlce between 2nd December 1989 and 17th August 1890, and in 1913 he married Anna Zawadzka, a woman from Siedlce. The author captured his attachment and affection for Siedlce in a novel entitled The Spring to Come. Its main hero is Cezary Baryka, son of Seweryn Baryka and ‘Siedlce-born’ Jadwiga Dąbrowska, who would always go back to Siedlce with her thoughts and memories, no matter where she found herself. Żeromski’s daughter Monika also used to make sentimental journeys back to her family roots, in search for places she remembered and for the spirit of past times – she visited the very location of the bench today, the town library, in 1964 and 1969. The monument is the work of Prof. Stanislaw Strzyżyński, a sculptor from Nałęczów.
Artur Rubinstein’s bench in Łódź
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The statue of Artur Rubinstein is part of the ‘Pantheon of Famous Łódź Citizens’, which have lined the famous Piotrkowska Street since 1999. They are all bronze sculptures displayed on its pavements, commemorating prominent people in the city’s history. The monument was unveiled on 23rd September 2000 as part of the World Meeting of People from Łódź event. The monument was designed by Marcel Szytenchelm. The tenement building at 78 Piotrkowska Street is where the world-renowned pianist used to live.
Classically, he is presented here in a tailcoat, sitting at the piano with his hands touching the keyboard. The raised lid of the instrument resembles a bird’s wing – Artur Rubinstein’s family actually objected against the monument in this shape. His daughter Eva Rubinstein wrote several letters of protest on behalf of the family, addressed to the Municipal Office of Łódź and to the Chancellery of Poland’s Prime Minister, claiming that the form of the monument and its low artistic value were insults to the artist’s memory. Because of the monument, Eva Rubinstein refused to come to Łódź for six years despite annual celebrations commemorating her father.
The sculpture has also provoked many controversies among the art and music community of Łódź, and there is talk of plans to remove the existing monument and replace it with one of higher artistic value. In the original version of the monument, putting a coin into a slot triggered a mechanism hidden inside to play either Chopin’s Concerto in F Minor, Czajkowski’s Concerto in B-minor, or Chopin’s Waltz in C-sharp Minor or his Polonaise in A-flat Major. However, Sony BMG intervened demanding royalties for the pieces played, and the piano has since fallen silent.
Tadeusz Różewicz’s bench (non-existent)
Some artists do not want to have benches erected in their memory. The writer Tadeusz Różewicz expressed precisely this desire in his 2012 poetry volume To i Owo in the drawing 13 Benches in Memoriam of TR. It was a reaction to a proposal by Wrocław’s mayor, who wanted to celebrate the poet with a bench and his bronze figure sitting on it. The artist reacted in a grotesque and ironic manner typical of him. He put up ‘regulations against the molestation of benches’ and even designed boards with special notices (‘Don’t sit if you have flatulence’, etc.). Moreover, he excluded the following from sitting on any bench next to his bronze figure: people weighing over 100kg, vomiting drunkards, girls using mobile phones, poets writing poems, and combatants recollecting the struggles of the Battle of Grunwald (which took place in 1410). He also banned ‘pissing and shitting dogs’. That being said, he did welcome female players of basketball, volleyball and tennis to sit down.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MF, edited by NR & AZ, 24 Feb 2020
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