On The Beat: 9/27

Sculpting a local legacy

by Jim Bucher

So, it’s true. You do learn something new every day. Well, at least the subject of this column is new to me.

Let me explain.

As a kid, I always looked forward to a trip downtown to the main library branch. I’m old enough to remember when it was brand new in the early 1960s. Wow, that makes me…?

But it was a special time in my life, as my pops would peruse through the “grown-up” section while I spent my time in the wonderful kid’s area.

With my very first library card in tow, checking out the latest Tom Swift or Dr. Seuss books was just flippin’ cool.

One thing I always noticed was the large sculpture that adorned the facade along Third Street.

An interesting piece, I might add.

So when the library began its re-do, I was hoping the Dayton Metro Library folks would find a place for this wonderful work of art, incorporating it in the new facility.

Turns out they were way ahead of me.

Now, jump to a bicycle jaunt last week while passing the soon-to-be-completed new and improved library, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the sculpture proudly mounted on granite from the old main library, standing in what will be a lovely green pocket park at the corner of Third Street and Patterson Boulevard, directly across from the entrance to the new main library.

But the question is, who’s the artist behind it? A national or world-renowned sculptor? Yep, and he’s from right here.

After a little digging and some help from the gang at Dayton Metro, I discovered the gentleman responsible not only left his mark at the library, but all over the city.

His name is Robert Koepnick, born in Dayton, July 8, 1907.

According to an online bio, he was a third generation Daytonian and studied sculpture at the Dayton Art Institute and under renowned Swedish sculptor Carl Milles at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.

From 1933 to 1938 at the DAI, Koepnick produced terra cotta figures for Dayton schools as part of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.

His work adorned Roosevelt High School, Fairview High School, Belmont High School, and Eastmont Park Elementary School. Its whereabouts are currently unknown as the schools rebuild. I’ll do some more digging.

Many of his pieces were created during the 1950s and ’60s, a prosperous time for Dayton, with the industry thriving and the population growing. New residential construction, brand new suburbs and baby boomers crammed into old school buildings, which made new ones necessary.

With WWII a memory, there was enthusiasm and optimism for a bright future, and art at the time reflected that.

Tim Kambitsch, executive director of Dayton Metro Library, says there was no question the iconic sculpture would be around for generations to come:

“Our libraries across the county are being improved, with new or expanded buildings and state-of-the art technologies. But we haven’t forgotten where we came from. Dayton’s library history is almost as long as the history of the city itself. It was important to us to honor our past and continue to display this artwork into the future.”

Koepnick’s art can also be seen at the DAI, Woodland Cemetery, and Alter High School, as well as other locations across the U.S. plus the gates of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on South Main Street.

John Friedline, president of the Montgomery County Agricultural Society, is well aware of its importance.

“The Robert Koepnick sculpture has been an important part of the fairgrounds entrance for over 50 years,” he says. “Plans are to relocate the art piece to our new location in 2018. He was a local man born and raised in Dayton and Montgomery County and a part of his legacy will live on at our future fairgrounds.”

Koepnick’s life spanned most of the 20th century before he passed away in 1995. His public art appeared throughout a period when we felt such work was critical to important buildings and institutions.

Even though he’s been gone now for over two decades, isn’t it wonderful to know Koepnick’s art and legacy continues?

So, how about that? Thought I knew it all in my hometown. You truly do learn something new every day.

Yep, another local boy done good.

Cheers!

Buch

 
For over 25 years, Jim Bucher has been a regionally known and loved local television icon. “Buch’s” followers describe him as trustworthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention! Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com

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For over 25 years, Jim Bucher has been a regionally known and loved local television icon. “Buch’s” followers describe him as trustworthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention! Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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