Based at his home studio in Bernardsville, a structural engineer by profession sat Harry Robinson, an artist sculptor who changed the landscapes of outdoor spaces all across the county. A former zeppelin pilot in the Air Force and Maplewood, New Jersey transplant, Robinson had a gift, it just took him a while to recognize that sculpting would be his artistic legacy. We look back at his work and remember the history he left behind.
Over 23 years Harry created over 50 statues and was the only artist that created sculptures only from dead trees. Nancy Robinson, Harry’s wife was one of his biggest fans. “It keeps him young. He loves doing it.”
It all started back in 1955 when Harry signed up for a sculpting class at the Maplewood Adult School after he had contracted the mumps at home and got a sculpting kit because he was bored.
It usually took about three months per piece to complete. Who didn’t love Harry’s approach. “There’s always something in there that you have to let out.” said Robinson “It’s satisfying, emotional, and spiritual for me.” That’s why he did it.
As Joyce Kilmer said “Only God can create a tree. but when he’s done, with them Harry Robinson gives them a second life. Luther Turmelle, Courier News 1989
Bernard The Bear
Back in 1983, Harry carved a bear which because one of his favorite most recognized sculptures. So many people loved the bear that there was actually a contest to name his creation that went viral.
The Bear, setting the 1983 “Name-the-Bear” contest winners were announced promptly at 1 p.m. by sanctuary director Richard Kane. The winning name of “Bernard” was selected by a panel of Audubon judges from some 114 entries submitted during the past six months. Since the name “Bernard” was submitted by five entrants, the judges’ decision was that the earliest post-marked entry would be declared first-prize winner, and this honor went to Frank C. Yurasko, an 11-year-old from Bernardsville Yurasko, whose entry was dated Dec. 23, 1983, was given a small wooden replica of the bear prepared by Harry Robinson.
The Good Shepherd
Robinson’s second large outdoor project was known locally as the “Good Shepherd”, an iconic wooden carving that stood 20 feet tall in a field just off the Route 202 highway in Bernardsville.
The iconic shepherd was note for looking over the children at the Gentle Shepherd Nursery School as well as the church congregation across the street from the sculpture. Ruschmann said Robinson’s original idea was to carve an American Indian from the ancient white oak, which had previously been struck by lightning.
But because the statue would face the First Presbyterian Church of Bernardsville, Mr. Ruschmann suggested that a shepherd would be more appropriate.
Over the years, said Ruschmann, the statue became “a landmark” in Bernardsville, its outstretched arm appearing to hail motorists as they entered the borough from the south.
The Shepherd’s Demise
After years of weather and bug infestation, the Gentle Shepherd became unstable and had to come down. Locals remember saying how horrible it would be if the public saw the once great gentle shepherd face down in the field due to neglect. So it had to come down. “We’re going to miss him a lot,” said Roberta Ruschmann, owner of Meadowbrook Farm, where the statue had stood since being carved from the trunk of a dead oak tree. Ruschmann said her father, the late Henry F. Ruschmann, commissioned Harry Robinson to carve the statue in 1976.
The Shepherd’s Returns to His Field
In 2013, the 24-foot-tall statue was restored after a five-year process led by Henry Ruschmann, who described the extensive project during a dedication service on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at the First Presbyterian Church of Bernardsville. Leading the outdoor ceremony for a group of about 50 residents was the Rev. Chester Kim, the church pastor. The shepherd finally returned to his rightful place looking over his flock from his Bernardsville perch.
The Mountain Man
Liberty Corner resident Richard Arnold and Harry Robinson put the finishing touches on Robinson’s carving creation “The Mountain Man” on Church Street in Liberty Corner back in 1999. The carving was made from a 100 year old sugar maple tree that was damaged in a storm.
About Robinson’s Sculptures:
Costs were estimated typically between $1,000 and $10,000 per sculpture and it usually took about three months per piece to complete. Let us know if you’ve seen any other Harry Robinson carvings. They were very popular in the area. If you have an old photo, drop us a note.
- 1975 – “The Bear,” 15 feet high Scherman Hoffman Sanctuary, 11 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville
- 1977- “The Fisherman”, figure of a fisherman 20 feet tall on Mine Mount Road in Bernardsville
- 1979 – “The Good Shepherd” on Route 202 1.5 miles south of Bernardsville Center
- 1982 – “Norman Rahn” Heads – dutch elm cut in Far Hills
- “A Multitude of the Heavenly Host” – Presbyterian Church House, Hilltop Road in Mendham
- “The Liberty Eagle”, Schooleys Mountain and Flocktown Road , Washington Township
- “Daphne” at Harry Robinson’s home in Bernardsville
- 1999 – “The Mountain Man”, Dick Arnold in wood. Church Street, Liberty Corner
- “The Squirrel, 262 Lyons Road Basking Ridge
- “The Holy Family” – St, Patrick Church, Chatham.
- “Santa” at Archie Stiles Antiques retail store in Meyersville
- CARVING A SANTA from a fallen maple tree at Archie’s Retail Shop in Meyersville is sculptor Harry Robinson of Bernardsville. Archie Stiles, known as the Santa of Passaic Township during the Christmas season, admires the craftsman’s work. Santa Makes A Permanent Stop At Archies Shop In Meyersville
About Harry Robinson
Robinson moved to Bernardsville around 1978. He retired as a structural engineer in 1989. Robinson’s work, mostly figurative, is noted for its use of grain patterns and natural configurations of branches, trunks, and bark. The rough-chiseled finish, incorporated with his of humor.
Harry Robinson was a trustee of the Somerset Hills Art Association and instructor for the Somerset Hills Adult School, will give a lecture and demonstration of wood carving at the Bernards Township Library. Robinson was also an elder with the Bernardsville Presbyterian Church.
Robinson said he had no favorite sculpture “That would be like picking a favorite child I guess.” But when pressed he did say the Good Shepherd was his most challenging and rewarding.
Harry C. Robinson of Doylestown, Pa., formerly of Bernardsville, N.J., died on Dec. 23, 2011, at the age of 87. A memorial service was held at the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church at 1 East Oak St., Bashing Ridge, N.J., on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. Mr. Robinson was born in 1924 in Toledo, Ohio, to the late Harry and Beyrl Robinson. He served his country honorably in the U.S. Naval Air Force during World War II. He was very active in community theater, where he did acting, scenery, and set production. He was an active member of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church, where he was ordained as an elder.
He is most well-known for his wood sculpture, especially for several monumental pieces, including the 24-foot “Good Shepherd,” formerly located on Bernardsville, and “The Liberty Eagle,” currently on Schooley’s Mountain in Long Valley, N.J.