The Zodiac Sculptures by Milton Hebald - A Pan Am Legacy
By Ann Blumensaadt
On August 17th, 2011 Robert A. Genna and I went to Culver City, California to meet and visit Milton Hebald. Mr. Hebald is a world renowned sculptor who created the Zodiac Sculptures that once graced the front of the Pan Am Terminal at JFK International Airport in New York City then called Idlelwild Airport.
Mr. Hebald explained that he and Walther Prokosch, the architect who designed the Pan Am Terminal, were good friends. They had both taught at Cooper Union in Manhattan. Mr. Prokosch asked Milton if he would design a big sculpture that would go in front of a glass screen that would prevent air and water from going into the oval shaped terminal. Milton felt that the Prokosch's oval cantilever cable roof design was a stroke of genius and was way ahead of it's time in concept and execution.
Photographs of the Zodiac sculptures as they exist today in storage at JFK Airport (Photos of sculptures taken by Robert Genna with permission of Milton Hebald).
After much thought and reflection Mr. Hebald chose as his subject the signs of the Zodiac. He said that the twelve Zodiac signs have existed since Roman times and are often depicted in different religions and are included in Jewish Temples. "Men have always believed in the signs of the Zodiac as a way of predicting the future" said Mr. Hebald.
It took Milton Hebald three years to complete the twelve bronze Zodiacs. He was working at the American Academy in Rome, Italy at the time. Each Zodiac figure is bronze and measures between 15-20 feet in length. He designed them so they could be seen from both sides of the screen, from the inside of the terminal looking out and from the outside view of the terminal looking in. Mr. Hebald worked from 1/3 size models called "Maquettes" by which the full size
Zodiacs could be worked up by means of a Pantograph device for precisely enlarging them.
He quoted poet Anthony Burgess who once said about the Zodiac Sculptures that"People coming to American originally would be greeted by the Statue of Liberty, symbol of America, and people who land by Pan Am at JFK would be greeted by Milton Hebald's Zodiac Sculpture Screen."
Unfortunately, the Zodiac Sculptures were removed from the former Pan Am Terminal in the early 1990's and have been stored in a hangar at JFK Airport ever since under the aegis of the Port of Authority of New York & New Jersey. Their condition is unknown or unclear. Mr. Hebald did not learn of this until after the fact and was quite upset that he was never told or informed of their removal.
He said that his Zodiac sculptures were the best works he had ever done and completed in his prime. When asked which Zodiac sculpture was his favorite he responded "Oh I like them all, they are all my babies”.
Sagitarrius Sculpture and Base designed and drawn by Robert A. Genna copyright 2022.
Mr. Hebald is 94 years old* and would like to celebrate his 100th birthday. He would also like to see the Zodiac sculptures restored and displayed in a place where the public could view and appreciate them. The future Pan Am Museum in Miami, Florida would be an "excellent choice" Mr. Hebald said when I mentioned the Museum to him. Maybe former Pan Am employees could help achieve this goal.
Robert & I would like to thank Lara Hebald Embry for graciously inviting us into her home to meet her grandfather Milton Hebald. A special thanks also goes out to Ms. Karen Lupton of the Milton Hebald Trust for arranging our chat with Mr. Hebald and for the wonderful photographs for this article. Lastly a heart-felt thank you to Milton Hebald for chatting with us and enlightening us about his wonderful Zodiac masterpiece.
*At the time this article was written in 2011, Sculptor Milton Hebald was 94 years old. He passed away in January 2015.
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