Former Penn student and world-renowned cartoonist Charles Addams (FA’34,Hon’80) would not have missed the reference. The new entryway into the Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall—the Kelly Family Gates—bears a striking resemblance to one of Addams’ most memorable characters, Thing of the Addams Family.
Mark Leuders (GFA’93), a lecturer in fine arts who submitted the winning design for the new gate, explained the inspiration behind the 56 bronze hands that now greet visitors. According to Leuders, the hands are meant to reflect both Addams’ quirky sense of humor and the creativity that takes place within the walls of Addams Hall.
Come up close and you’ll see that each hand holds tools relating to the making of art. Some hands reference the more traditional forms of art, waving a pencil or a paintbrush, while other hands hint at the future of art, holding a diskette and a mouse.
“I thought the hand and the activity and the realism would connect to the people on the walk and draw them in,” said Leuders. “If there was this big sculpture, a really conceptual piece, I think it sometimes turns people away. People are intimidated by art, so I didn’t want to do that.”
To realize his vision, Leuders had to seek more than one helping hand; each sculpture was cast from the actual hands of professors sitting on the University’s fine arts faculty.
“I was obsessed with the detail,” said Leuders. “If you look up close at the bronze sculptures around campus and the city, you’re not going to find the blisters and hangnails that I have.”
Leuders also benefited from the skills of an ironworker, who helped fabricate the gate’s frame and install the 1,500-pound doors. “I found the right people to help with each stage of the process,” he said. “[It was difficult] finding an ironworker who would be willing to work with an artist and capable of doing something beyond their normal everyday process, more than just putting armrails [in].”
And while the gate is Leuders’ first work in bronze, he said that that wasn’t the most daunting aspect of the task. “The challenge was to figure out how to fit it into my life. I had a baby in this time, I was starting a business at the exact same time, and I couldn’t give either up.”
Two and a half years later, the gate is finally open to the public. Like any self-critical artist, Leuders said that were he to do it again he would keep in mind that the doors had to be constantly open, not shut like his original conception. And it looks as if Leuders will get many more chances to perfect his art. He has already been approached about possible projects for gates in New York.
Originally published on June 12, 2003