Palm Beach may still be disoriented from not having to navigate roadblocks, delays and detours during Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Apparently, the lack of annoyance may have bewildered the driver of a Ferrari that recently drove off the North End dock and into the channel. Purposely, according to the local police. Yet another, this time a Mercedes, backed into a shop on South County Road crashing through a plate-glass window. Only on Palm Beach, where everyone is a someone somewhere at sometime for something, are some identified only by the car they are driving, making perhaps for a J. G. Ballard science-fiction scenario. Then again, off-islanders are named for their slightest offense, as what makes for “news” on Palm Beach is too often more Colbert than Flaubert.
My latest venture to the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden has led to a greater appreciation for Norton’s artistic works, long overlooked if not disparaged. Today’s fascination with Midcentury-Modern design — its minimal lines, functional forms and institutional color wheel — is a turnaround from the insignificance it was once relegated not so long ago.
Today Palm Beach harbors several prime MiMo commercial and multifamily buildings, among them the statuesque Palm Beach Towers and the works of Edward Durell Stone, Howard Chilton and John Stetson. During the past several decades, it has leveled hundreds of MiMo single-family homes, especially in the North End, including several of Alfred Browning Parker’s exhilarating works, without regard to their importance as representational of the time when they were built. Instead, Palm Beach has created a sizable gap in its architectural history, replacing MiMo houses with streets composed of archaic facades imported either from centuries past or a distant idyll, appreciated mainly for their square-footage.
Nonetheless, it is probably the current exhibit of Gino Miles’ sculpture, described as “elegant minimalism,” juxtaposed with Ann Norton’s more monumental pieces that for me enhance her historical and aesthetic importance. This led me to wander over to The Four Arts and take a fresh look at the nearly 20 works installed at the Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden.
Along with Miles’s sculpture, the Denver-based Tansey Contemporary gallery has organized an exhibition of glass artists, including the work of Murano Maestro Lino Tagliapietra, for the Ann Norton, reminding us of the fine line between artists and artisans, craftsmen and sculptors. And then a look at a local craftsman sixth-generation tagliapietra (It. “stonecutter”) Rick Herpel who recreates history utilizing many of the same tools as sculptors but for utilitarian ends rather than the pursuit of some higher aesthetic.
Palm Beach’s architectural history is often told as much by the memory of its lost landmarks rather than its portfolio of existing houses and buildings. During the past four decades of breathless non-stop building, Herpel has had a front-row perspective on Palm Beach’s unique interpretation of preservation, restoration and recreation. “Everything is more over the top and anything is on the table,” said Herpel, when asked what separates Palm Beach from other resorts.
January 9, 2019 – 6 pm Gardens Conservancy’s 2019 Evening in the Gardens benefit Ann Norton Sculpture Garden 253 Barcelona Road – WPB
Contours in Metal: Sculpture by Gino Miles Murano Mosaics: Persistence & Evolution Ann Norton Sculpture Garden Organized by Tansey Contemporary – Denver
The Gardens Conservancy event coincided with the Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary Art Fair set to open the following night. Customarily, the Ann Norton showcases the work of one of the fair’s prominent sculptors but this year sculptor Gino Miles was joined by prominent glass artists, making for a first at ANSG.
In 2010, Rick Herpel gave the Simsbury Free Library a copy of his great-grandfather William Mansfield Ketchin’s 300-page memoir documenting the family’s brownstone buildings constructed from the 1850s to the 1920s in Connecticut’s Simsbury-Avon area, the quarries they owned, and the tobacco and construction business that eventually brought the family to South Florida. After WW II, Rick’s father Henry Herpel set up an offshoot of his mother’s family-owned Ketchin Tile & Brick Company, then based in Ft. Lauderdale, in West Palm Beach. William Ketchin came to Georgia Avenue, where the company is still located, to help his granddaughter’s husband organize the business. It was first known as the Ketchin-Herpel Floor Tile Company.
“I remember when I was five helping my Dad build a BBQ pit in our backyard made from coral heads collected off the beach at Sloan’s Curve,” recalled Herpel, who as a teenager began cutting and setting stone when he worked with his father. During the past more than 30 years that Rick has run the family company, it has fabricated architectural and decorative elements for countless mansions from Jupiter Island to Boca Raton, including the parade of Palm Beach estates designed by the resort’s heralded architects as well as the measureless Xanadus that replaced many of them.
More than a decade ago Herpel was in need of more industrial storage and production space and having located a nearby space on Norton Avenue, he designed his own warehouses, informed from his travels to Northern India.
During the past 30 years, Herpel has probably worked on either restoring or replacing every 1920s house and building built on Palm Beach designed by Addison Mizner, Treanor & Fatio and Wyeth & King. He began collecting the original architectural elements that many of his clients wanted to replace with more structurally sound simulated cast stone reproductions. Today his warehouse courtyard between the buildings has become what I describe as a stone garden, housing as many as 1,000 now nearly century-old architectural and structural elements. His collection of museum-quality imported antique and Mizner tiles are secured in a vaultlike location.