Before moving to Israel, the acclaimed artist installed pieces of his heart across the Pee Dee
By LIBBY WIERSEMA
The clickety ring of a Facetime call sends me rushing to my computer. I select “accept” and, just like that, the familiar face of an old friend fills my screen.
“Libby!” he says, which actually sounds like “Leeby,” thanks to an accent heavily marbled with high pitches and deep, throaty strains. Just as his voice is marked by intonations that swing from high to low and back again, there are few chapters in the life of Alex Palkovich that linger in life’s in-between spaces. He is either in the valleys or on the peaks – which, happily, is where he finds himself nearly all the time these days.
“I am great – life is beautiful,” he gushes. “Things are good – very good – since last I saw you.”
That would have been at a March 2020 concert in Florence, many, many miles away from the town in Israel he now calls home. In truth, establishing himself in the biblical Holy Land is a return home of sorts for the sculptor extraordinaire, who has been practicing his craft since the age of 6. The son of Holocaust survivors, Palkovich was born in a Soviet-ruled region of the Ukraine and immigrated with his family to Israel in 1973. He worked as a basket maker before earning an advanced degree in mechanical engineering. He then moved up the ranks and landed in the top spot at General Electric, overseeing operations at plants across the globe. In the years before his 2015 retirement, he served as CEO at General Electric in Florence. That was a real stroke of luck for the Pee Dee, which is now home to several of Palkovich’s stunning works.
“Being a CEO allowed me to earn a living,” he said. “Once I retired, I could be a sculptor full-time and no longer had to divide my time between a factory and art. I could just be a sculptor.”
After leaving Florence, Palkovich and his wife, Aggie, spent time in Colorado where he has a studio. They recently relocated to Israel where he sculpts from a home studio positioned on the second floor with inspirational panoramic views of the forests and skyline. Aggie, an artist in her own right, has an adjoining studio where she creates lush, colorful paintings on silk. Excited to show me the set-up, Palkovich takes off with phone in hand to give me a Facetime tour of the studio space and his most recent sculpture projects.
“See this? This is Ariel Sharon and this – this is Golda Meir,” he says, though his mastery makes the identities of his subjects crystal clear.
Palkovich is currently having an elevator installed for easier movement of his sculptures, for which he has garnered international acclaim. Among his many affiliations are memberships in the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Oxford Art Society, and the National Sculpture Society, which awarded him a fellowship in 2020. He has also received a British Design Award, a People’s Choice Award from the National Sculpture Society and recognition from the American Institute of Commemorative Art, the Allied Artists of America and the Portrait Society of America.
Whether creating lifelike bronze-cast visages of notable folks or designing a piece of functional, yet visually striking furniture, it’s all art – and life – for the prolific, highly revered artist who I am blessed to call a friend.
“There is no life without sculpture,” reads his artist statement. “Everything is sculpture. The building in which you dwell, the chair upon which you sit, the car that you drive – all is sculpture.”
Before we say goodbye and darken our screens, I ask him if he misses life in South Carolina.
“I love the people of Florence and the Pee Dee – so many of my good friends there,” he said. “I miss everyone and will be back, I promise, one day. Maybe do more sculptures – we will see.”
Take the Alex Palkovich Sculpture Tour
Alex Palkovich has left an indelible mark on the Pee Dee with several skillfully rendered sculptures. Each striking in detail, he urges viewers to consider each work from many angles to get a full sense of the emotions being conveyed.
“My work is alive with movement,” Palkovich said. “From every angle, each is different, and you see something more.”
The Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau has designed a map of sites of the artist’s installations, from the Florence Veterans Park (home to several works) to downtown Florence, to Lake City, to Johnsonville and more. Download the map and read descriptions of each sculpture by visiting https://visitflo.com/alex-palkovich-sculpture-trail-map or stop by the Florence Visitors Center for more information.
Among the local figures you will find on the trail:
Beverly and Starr
Location: Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center, Kassab Park
Description: Two local musicians, Beverly Hazelwood and the late Starr Ward, are depicted in this sculpture representing the fusion of friendship and music.
Dr. Walter D. “Doug” Smith
Location: Francis Marion University, J. Howard Stokes Administration Building
Description: This likeness memorializes the founder of Francis Marion College, which is now known as Francis Marion University.
Dr. Eddie Floyd
Location: Florence County Library, Founders’ Room
Description: This sculpture was created in honor of surgeon, Dr. C. Edward Floyd, chairman of the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation, which has funded many community projects.
Dr. Joe Stukes
Location: Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Library, Joseph T. Stukes Meeting Room
Description: This sculpture honors the late Dr. Joe Stukes, Francis Marion University history professor and local historian known for establishing a series of historical programs and portrayals.
General Francis Marion
Location: Odell Venters Landing, Johnsonville (smaller installations at Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Florence County Library and the Lake City Public Library)
Description: The Revolutionary War hero (known as the “Swamp Fox”) is on full, glorious display through this impressive sculpture depicting the crafty general upon his horse, Ball.
Location: Main Street, Downtown Lake City
Description: Born in 1873, Mr. Cooper was a fixture on this street corner where he would collect nickels from passersby who wanted to rub his lucky rabbit foot. Note the slot in the sculpture’s pocket – just big enough for a nickel to slip through.
Dr. R. N. Beck
Location: Luther F. Carter Center for Health Science, Downtown Florence
Description: This likeness of the first African American physician to be granted admitting privileges at the local all-white hospital is a powerful reminder of one man’s dedication to breaking racial barriers for the well-being of his patients and community.
William H. Johnson
Location: Roy Adams Breezeway, Downtown Florence
Description: In memory of internationally renowned artist and Florence native, the great William H. Johnson, this sculpture is Palkovich’s most recent local installation (2020) and stands as a masterful tribute to the artist.