By: Dale King Contributing Writer
BOCA RATON, FL – Yaacov Heller is an artist, sculptor and jewelry maker with skills to create intricate designs and finely detailed work. He has been commissioned to craft historically significant works for presidents, kings, heads of state and other dignitaries. His art also adorns presidential libraries and museums around the world.
At the same time, he has dotted Boca Raton with bronze statues of the community’s leading philanthropists as well as Judaica and tributes to major events in Jewish history.
A tall, distinguished man with a graying beard, he bears a distinct resemblance to Tevye, the lead character in the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” That’s something of a coincidence, since he sculpted a 12-foot bronze statue of the show’s Fiddler for a park in Miami and another for the sculpture garden outside his gallery in Boca’s Royal Palm Place.
Visitors to the Fiddler sculpture in Miami can sit, relax and enjoy music from the Broadway show. Heller said Fiddler fans became so upset when the soundtrack was changed that they demanded the return of the original tunes.
Heller and his wife, Sue, a retired art teacher at Coral Sunset School who has worked with her husband at the gallery for two years, both commented on how the Fiddler motif has followed the Boca-based artist. “Seth Greenleaf, the producer of the ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ revival now on Broadway, just happened to see the replica out front of the store and asked if I could make three miniatures in bronze, one for him, one for the director, Bartlett Sher, and the third for lead actor Danny Burstein, who was nominated for a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical last month.
“Danny has it on his piano. His mother was an art teacher. All three of them love it,” he said.
The Hellers smiled when recalling how the Fiddler statue in Miami endured destructive Hurricane Andrew. “After the storm, we saw that hundreds of trees had been knocked down, but nothing happened to the Fiddler statue. He was like Nero fiddling while Rome burned.”
Born in Cleveland in 1941, Heller established a residence in Jerusalem in 1972 where he set up a studio, workshop and foundry for the production of distinctive sculpture and jewelry. Though he now lives in Boca Raton, he still uses that foundry to create some of the jewelry he sells at his combination gallery and store – items crafted in pewter, silver, bronze and gold.
Guests at his shop that resembles a portrait and jewelry museum can view Heller’s artwork face-to-face. Paintings of such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Elvis Presley and John Lennon mingle with portraits of local notables such as health maven Oleda Baker, singer Kendra Erika and philanthropist Marta Batmasian.
The sculpture garden adjacent to the shop displays some of Heller’s famed bronzes, including “The Temptation,” with a fig leaf-adorned Eve offering similarly dressed Adam the forbidden apple; bronze dancers and the ubiquitous Fiddler.
Three of his most famous bronze works are in nearby Mizner Park. Looking stately next to the amphitheater are statues of Count Adolph and Countess Henrietta de Hoernle, perhaps Boca’s most generous philanthropists, endowing a multitude of causes with millions of dollars. The count passed away in 1996; his wife still lives in Boca Raton and will be 103 in September.
Heller also crafted a seven-foot-tall combination statue and fountain of Florence “Flossy” Keesely at the north end of Mizner Park, in front of the amphitheater grounds.
“She asked me to show her some of the works I had done,” said Heller. He drove her to various sites, but the Fiddler apparently caught her eye. She asked the artist to craft a statue of her reaching up to a star. The bronze work atop “Flossy’s Fountain” bears the youthful face of the renowned donor and supporter of the arts who passed away in January at age 101.
Much of Heller’s inspiration comes from the Bible and Judaica. He recently sculpted a 14-foot-tall Holocaust memorial in bronze for a memorial garden at Beth El Congregation in Baltimore. Atop it are hands holding a flame. Written on the side is the word, “Remember,” in Hebrew.
A similar piece stands in the Garden of Humanity in Boca’s Royal Palm Place, one that recalls all genocides of the 20th century. It was erected April 25, 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and was commissioned by Marta and Jim Batmasian of Investments Ltd., owners of the plaza.
A work commissioned by the late Paul and Eleanor Weiner stands in front of Congregation B’nai Torah in South Boca – an eight-foot bronze menorah that welcomes worshipers. “Paul came to me and said ‘I want you to do the menorah.’” The work boasts two Guardian Lions of Judah atop a granite pedestal with a colorful mosaic fresco depicting the 12 tribes of Israel, with their names written in English and Hebrew.
Heller not only works in the community, but also for the community. He is currently helping to plan the “Hook, Wine & Sinker” fundraiser Aug. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center. The nautically themed event will benefit the Twin Palms Center for the Disabled.
By: Dale King Contributing Writer