Above Picture: Nina Winkel (1905-1990), Shelter, 1946, Terra-cotta, 20.5 x 17 x 16”, Gift of George and Nina Winkel, Plattsburgh State Art Museum, X1983.7.34. Photo courtsey of Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
The intensity of fear is palpable in this statue. The mother’s wide eyes and strained face capture her panic. Terrified, she clutches her child, protecting her offspring from the impending danger. The child, completely enveloped by its mother’s extremities looks up in hope of reassurance. This expression of fear and the manifestation of motherly protection unite to provide the viewer a glimpse into the emotions experienced during World War II.
An Art Historian’s job is to interpret artwork based on what they know about the artist, the time frame it was created, artistic style, and any other influential factors. Our job becomes exponentially easier when the artist leaves us clues. In the case of Shelter, Winkel left us a lengthy quote detailing her thoughts on the piece. The quote is from an informal lecture Winkel gave in 1988. The VHS video recording was transcribed by Sally Booth later that year. It reads:
“This work called Shelter has been done in 1946. So at that time the war was over and it definitely belongs into [sic] series of works influenced by the war. This is also one of my favorite pieces and I think, one of the strongest of the war series. It shows us the undercover seen by our own eyes, a mother with a child, either in a shelter or her serving as a shelter for the child, and I have expressed an almost animal-like intensity of fear, especially in the case of the mother and therefore I have given her features that would belong almost more to the original, early mankind than the shape of faces as we know them now, but also the child is a little bit of a young apelike being, and the whole thing is just an intense expression of fear as well as motherly protection.” (Winkel,1988).
Winkel’s own interpretation of her work can stand alone. While there is no need for further analysis or interpretation of the sculpture, it leads us to insights into Winkel as an artist. It tells us that it is a series of works influenced by war. What it doesn’t explicitly tell us is that Winkel experienced the fear associated with war first hand. She lived through both World Wars, spent a brief time in a concentration camp, was in Paris when it fell to the Nazis, and fled Europe with us Husband in 1942. All of which likely incited ample amounts of fear. Her own experiences were was aptly translated into the intensity of fear captured in Shelter.
Sculpture Artist Nina Winkel (1905-1990) was born in Germany in 1905. Her childhood was an unhealthy one. A rare bone disease affiliated with a type of Tuberculosis kept her confined to her bed for two years. She spent many hours reading books, listening to music, and creating art during this time of healing.
Winkel studied at the Kunstgewerhe Schule (School for Arts and Crafts) in Essen (1921), the Staatlieche Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf (1922-1923), and the Kunstgewerbe Schule Ahteilung Staedel-Museum-am-Main in Frankfurt (1929-1931).
She was in Paris when it fell to the Nazis and fled to the United States with her husband, George, in 1942. They first lived in New York City. Unable to speak English at first, she worked as a cleaning woman in the Clay Club, where she later produced her earliest terra cotta pieces in this country.
Winkel was the first woman in N.Y.C. to get a welder's license, and in 1959 she moved from working in clay to creating welded copper sculptures. Only about five feet tall, Nina eventually had to switch to an acetylene torch because she lacked the strength to handle the heavier welding equipment.
Nationally and internationally known, Winkel had many exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art (1950, 1954), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1951-1952), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1951), and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (1949).
She also received many awards, honors, and commissions, including an honorary Doctorate degree from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh (1985); Elizabeth Watrous gold medals (1945, 1978); Samuel F.B Morse gold medal (1964) and the artists fund prize for best sculpture (1979); a purchase prize, National Sculpture Society (1981); and many others.
Her work is represented in private and public collections in the US and abroad, including “Justice Procectress” at the Supreme Court of New York; Albert Schweitzer School in Germany; the University of Notre Dame, Indiana; City of Borken-Westfalen, Germany; Nahu Manufacturing Corporation, Ottawa, Canada; and the Winkel Sculpture Court at the Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
Winkel Sculpture Court
See Shelter and other artwork from the war series (i.e. Arch of Triumph and Song in the Furnace) at the Plattsburgh State Art Museum. All are located in the Winkel Sculpture Court. The atrium style space is located on the second floor of the Myers Fine Arts Building on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus. It holds approximately 45 sculptures by Nina Winkel.
About the Plattsburgh State Art Museum:
Plattsburgh State Art Museum is located on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus. It exists to collect, study, preserve, exhibit, interpret, and publish original works of art. The museum is committed to advance the academic goals of the College and contribute to the cultural education of the northern New York & southern Canadian regions. The museum is open daily 12- 4pm and closed legal holidays. For more information, contact the museum office at 518-564-2474 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit us at plattsburgh.edu/museum and Facebook.com/PlattsburghStateArtMuseum.