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Neil Carl Estern

WEST CORNWALL — Neil Carl Estern, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 18, 1926, died on July 11, 2019.  

He was the only son of Molly  Sylbert and Marc J. Estern.

Neil grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, near Prospect Park. He graduated from the High School of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art  and Design) in 1944.

He attended the Tyler School of Fine Art in Philadelphia, Pa., a division of Temple  University; and graduated in 1948 with a BFA as well as a BS in Education.

He then studied at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and then studied and worked for many years in Pietrasanta, Italy.

He married Anne Graham in 1948; the Rabbi Stephen Weiss presided.

Most notable as a sculptor of monumental public art, he also created several  highly collectable vinyl dolls for the Ideal Toy Corp. in the 1960 and ’70s.   

Neil modeled the heads and limbs and wife Anne designed the wardrobes and created the concepts. 

The Patty Playpal series in particular has become a classic. His insistence on crafting dolls with lifelike, unexaggerated features and naturally proportioned bodies was a breakthrough in the era that  spawned Barbie, etc.

Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was the creation of the principal figures  in the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. He spent more than 10 years on the massive 8-foot 11-inch seated figure of Roosevelt; a relief of Franklin and Eleanor; and a sculpture of their dog, Fala. 

Neil’s insistence  on historical accuracy and his honest depiction of FDR’s disability caused  a good deal of controversy at the time. His Roosevelt Sculptures can be found in “Room 3” of the memorial.

Other notable public works include the JFK memorial in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn; Fiorello LaGuardia on LaGuardia Place in Manhattan;  Eleanor Roosevelt at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.; Calvert Vaux in  Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Frederick Olmsted in Prospect Park, Brooklyn; “Expulsion from Paradise” at the Brooklyn Museum; Irving Berlin at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C., and also at the Music Box Theater in Manhattan; Sen. Claude Pepper, at the Pepper Museum in Tallahassee,  Fla.

Additionally, he created sculptures for several covers for Time magazine including J. Edgar Hoover; Prince Charles and Lady Diana; and President Jimmy  Carter.

His figurative work is in many private collections.

He was president of the National Sculpture Society from 2005 to 2007 and 1994 to 1997; a fellow with the National Sculpture Society from 1987 to 2019; an academician at the National Academy of Design from 1996 to 2019; and an artist member at The Century Association. 

He belonged to the Rembrandt Club in Brooklyn as well as The Century  Association in Manhattan.

He resided in West Cornwall from 1975 to the present. 

His honors and awards include: Medal of Honor, The National Sculpture Society, 2008; Maynard Award, National Academy, 1999; Daniel Chester French Award, National Academy, 1997; Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Award for Fiorello LaGuardia statue in Greenwich Village, 1996; Mildred Vincent Prize, National Sculpture Society, 1992; Dessie Greer Prize, National Academy, 1990; Mildred Vincent Prize, National Sculpture Society, 1988; Lindsey Morris Prize, National Sculpture Society, 1984; Kent Art Association, First Prize 1982; National Academy Certificate of Merit, 1979; Samuel F.B. Morse Award, National Academy, 1970.

He is survived by Anne (Graham) Estern, his wife of 71 years; three children, Peter and his wife, Lauren Chan,  Evan and his wife, Dawn Hathaway, of Falls Village and Victoria (Estern) Jadow of West Cornwall and her  longtime partner, John Gruen, of  Lakeville; and three grandchildren, Ethan Jadow, Lucie Jadow and Lucas Estern.