Manuel Carbonell, Cuban-born American sculptor, died he was 93.
Manuel Carbonell was regarded as the last of the Cuban Master Sculptors died he was 93 .. He was part of the generation of Cuban artists, which includes Wifredo Lam and Agustin Cardenas, that studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “San Alejandro”,
Havana Cuba. Carbonell’s inexhaustible vision and his ever
changing-style are the product of a brilliant talent and academic
background. Ceaselessly searching for the essence of form and the
absence of details, he struggled to provide a sense of strength,
monumentality and simplicity to his work. At 92 years of age, he had
continued to work in his studio.
(October 25, 1918 – November 10, 2011 )
Carbonell was born on October 25, 1918, in Sancti Spiritus (“Holy Spirit”), Cuba.
He had two sisters the older, Josephine and the younger Angela. His
father alone came from a family of eighteen brothers and sisters. The
family history has its roots in early sugar farming, from the early
At an early age the family moved to Cienfuegos
and Carbonell went to study at Cienfuegos primary school, this proved
to be the beginnings of many long lasting friendships, even then he was
known and recognized as the person so in admiration of art, and consumed
with drawing and carving. Continuing on to his more formative academic
years, in Havana he attended Belen, a Jesuit Preparatory Catholic High School where, he excelled in the classes that involved art or history.
Carbonell first realized he wanted to be a sculptor when he was eight
or nine years old. He was always making little figures with clay. And
whenever He found a piece of paper, He would doodle little figures on
it. His harshest punishment as a child was when his mother forbade him
to draw. Having the understanding that a piece of paper could be torn
apart but not a sculpture, held the idea of lasting permanence to the
thought of creating. To this day he becomes depressed when he is not
involved in the process of creation, he becomes impossible. “Something
curious happens to me when I sit down to begin the process of
translating the images in my imagination into this third dimension. I
see the whole piece finished, actually totally finished, in my minds
eye, even before I begin. But, as we all know, imagination can be very
To describe Carbonell’s sculptures they have the force of Rodin, the
monumentality of Moore and the simplicity of Mallot, but with a personal
style and interpretation.
In 1937, He wanted to learn about art and found out about “San Alejandro”, the renowned Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Academy of Fine Arts) in Havana.
When he arrived, they asked him what previous training he had.
Explaining, he told them he had none. The school wanted him to go
through a preliminary process for two years prior to attending, however
he managed to prove himself with a clay carving that he had made that
following weekend and they accepted him as a student on the spot.
Carbonell was eighteen years old and barely beginning at San Alejandro
when he fell down some stairs. The injury was very severe; one of his
kidneys had literally exploded as a result of the impact. He spent
nearly one year paralyzed, unable to move. He couldn’t attend classes of
course, the despair he felt, lying there, all that time was
immeasurable. But little by little he learned to walk again, he just
stubbornly refused to give up, finally able to return to San Alejandro.
At the Academy Carbonell studied under the guidance of Juan José Sicre, a former student of Antoine Bourdelle, Rodin‘s favorite disciple.
In 1945 Carbonell graduated with the title of Professor of Drawing and
Sculpture. Carbonell met and worked alongside some great artist, Fidelio Ponce, Victor Manuel, Amelia Pelaez,
Estopinan and many more. Artistic excellence, meant one must measure up
to maximum standards or smash it into pieces and start again, that was
Beginnings as a sculptor
His classical and religious period developed between 1945 and 1959
some of his many important commissions included the stone carvings
bas-reliefs of the Twelve Stations of the Cross, along with The Last
Rites located at Las Lomas Del Jacan in San Miguel de los Banos. Last
was exhibited at the National Capitol in Havana. He also sculpted a
statue of the Virgin Mary for the Association of Catholic University
students in Havana. A life size wood carving, crucifixion for the chapel at the Covadonga Sugar mill in Las Villas, Cuba.
Carbonell’s work received immediate recognition. Dr. Roberto
Lopez-Goldaras, the art critic of Havana’s Diario De La Marina, in
Havana, said in 1952 about his work, “We foresee for the young and
distinguished sculptor Manuel Carbonell a great future; (he) who had
been able to conceive a sculpture like eternity, will without a doubt,
earn himself a glorious name, which is already an euphoric name,
accredited among the literary and artistic names of Cuba.”
Carbonell participated in numerous national competitions and was the
recipient of many awards. The life-size stone carving Fin de una raza
(End of a race)
earned him his first international award in 1954, for the III Bienal
Hispanoamericana de Arte, in Barcelona, Spain. The piece became part of
the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana; it appeared on the
cover of Reader’s Digest magazine in May 1956.
Havana, in the 1950s was glittery with pomp and wealth, deemed “The
sexiest city in the world”. The Latin Caribbean Playground for the
International jet setters. An establishment such as the Tropicana, where
the rhythm and gaiety exuded the nightlife was in vogue and a place
that Carbonell was well familiar and able to utilize many of the dancers
as his models. Enjoying life in the Miramar Coastal neighborhood of
For the first Commercial television broadcast, Union Radio
Television, Carbonell was the host and interviewer for a weekly
television program where he interviewed artist as his topic of
discussion, to include Wifredo Lam, amongst others. He worked in various
aspects of television and production whereby he won an award in set
design for the ‘Union De La Cronica Tele-Radial Diaria”
in the second festival. By 1954 Carbonell left for Europe traveling and
visiting museums and more museums in such countries as Spain, Italy,
France. A nomad through the museums of Europe proved to inspire
Carbonell as he studied the art of the Impressionist and Abstract
artists, which inspired a change in direction to give form a sense of
Included in his various business ventures, he owned an operated his own Interior Design business “Carbonell Studio”.
Where he designed from French to Modern furniture incorporating his
other beloved interest of creating an environment. Ultimately this would
provide the perfect opportunity for defecting and leaving his homeland,
with the understanding he was granted a visa for a purchasing trip to
Miami having an ulterior motive.
Exile to New York City
In 1959, Carbonell fled Cuba where he could no longer live under a
totalitarian regime. Leaving behind his wealth, his position and his
sculptures, and most importantly his family, he arrived in New York City
with only his tremendous talent and $200. He initially took up
residency at the YMCA.
Although deeply depressed at first, he proceeded to experiment with newly acquired freedom of expression.
His early work in his new country shows a constant search for beauty
and perfection. His intrinsic fascination with the human body and the
basic shapes of nature, led him to a very personal and distinctive
style. He moved away from his classical and religious period,
in Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s through the commencement and development
of his modern expression of the 1960s, culminating in Madison Avenue,
then pinnacle of the art world.
It started almost haphazardly and by chance. As payment to his then
public relations manager Ted Materna and Associates he provided one of
his sculptures. A very prominent doctor, Paul Henkind,
then Chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at Monte Fiore Hospital,
NYC noticed the incredible sculpture and stated to the gentleman “I
didn’t know you owned a Rodin”? He insisted in meeting Carbonell to see
his work and showed up unannounced at his studio, that same evening with
his wife they purchased three Carbonells of their own and became his
Shortly after in 1961, Manuel Carbonell introduced himself to Dr Fred
Schoneman, the influential and renowned Gallery owner, who was
impressed with what he saw of Carbonells work, and invited him to become
the gallery’s first and only modern sculptor. The gallery exhibited
Carbonell’s sculptures alongside paintings of Impressionist masters,
such as Braque, Chagall, Monet, Dufy, Pissarro, Picasso, Gaugin, Renior
and others. He lived and worked in a loft studio, located at what is
referred to today as Soho. By 1963, he celebrated the first of his seven
bi-annual “One Man Show’s” at the renowned Schoneman Gallery, Madison
Avenue, in New York City, a collaboration exceeding twelve years.
For his first exhibition at Schonemans, Carbonell departed from clay
and plaster forms and worked in hammered metals. During this time, one
sensed the influence of Pablo Gargallo. In 1967 he extended his frontier
to include another one-man show in San Francisco at the Maxwell
Galleries. By 1971 the Sculptor held two exhibits, one again at
Schoneman and the other at Bacardi Gallery in Miami. At this time,
Carbonell moved from acclaimed hammered metals and patina bronzes to
This new work took on a completely different turn, becoming more
abstract. Rounded volumes replaced the elongated anatomical shapes,
present in Lovers, Madonna of the Moon and Figurative Form. During an
exhibition at Galerie Moos, in 1972, in Montreal Canada the artist
unveiled new subject matters through high-polish bronze as exemplified
by Sea Lion, Sea Horses, Snail and Mermaid. These works are abstract
interpretations of Carbonells vivid imaginations, conveying universal
beauty characteristic of such images.
Randall Galleries took control and ownership of Schoneman Galleries
in 1973 while Carbonell was preparing an exhibit as a tribute to Dance.
The Dancer series are of flowing and delicate movements in this period,
climaxed with his show in New York “Homage and Ballet” to benefit the
City Center in 1974.
In this show, his highly polished sculptures, soared and flowed, rose
and bent, in an unbroken pattern, of graceful movements and merging
rhythms of harmony, as exemplified in “Modern Dancer,” “Firebird,”
“Isadora” and “Rehearsal”.
Reuniting with family
Carbonell took in his two nephews, in 1960, Ricardo 15 and Luis 13 to
live with him in New Jersey to save them from being inducted into
Castro’s military army.
Soon enough, nine months later his father Manuel and his sisters Angela
and Josefina with her 2 year-old daughter, Clara were able to leave
Cuba and come to Miami. Anxious to rejoin his family, he moved his
studio to Miami in 1974 and went into seclusion and concentrated on
important private commissions. The following years in 1977 Carbonell
created the “Virgin of Fatima”, for the Blue Army Shrine, his first
commissioned bronze monument in the United States:
a 26-foot high statue weighing 12 tons is permanently placed on top of
150 foot shrine in Washington, New Jersey. This statue is one of the
largest works cast in bronze in America during the twentieth century.
Another impressive monumental sculpture during this period, a
composition 15 feet in height of a horse and rider, balanced in only two
points, which was commissioned by Burt Reynolds for the entrance of the
Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theater, in Jupiter, Florida.
The Awards formally presented by The South Florida Entertainment
Writers Associations (SFEWA), an organization of major media theater
critics from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, decided to name them
in the name sake of Carbonell, as he signified and represented one who
devotes his life to art.
He additionally designed and cast the first awards which were oval in
theme. In November 15, 1976 they became and still are called, The
In 1976, Carbonell held a monographic exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum
and Art Center, in Miami, Florida, on view at the opening of their
newest gallery, where he introduced more than 20 of his newest works.
(Now incorporated into, The Frost Museum). Between the late seventies
and mid-eighties, the artist worked on private commissions and ventured
creatively in designing jewelry and furniture. At this time he had
several one-man shows that were also presented at different galleries
during this decade, including Steiner Gallery in Bal Harbor, West Avenue
gallery in Palm Beach, Camino Real in Boca Raton, all in Florida and
Ann Jacob Gallery, in Marietta, Georgia.
The White House
In 1976 Carbonell presented, at a formal ceremony on the South Lawn
of the White House his “Bicentennial Eagle” as a gift to the United
States of America. Durning the bicentennial celebrations the sculpture
was on display in the Great Hall of Commerce in Washington D.C. The
sculpture is now part of The Gerald R. Ford, Presidential Museum, Gran
Rapids, Michigan, which is technically a branch office of The National
Archives and Records Administration Collection, that the Federal
Beaux Arts Gallery
A new representation begun in 1987 as Beaux Arts Gallery, Miami
Florida, became the exclusive world wide representative of Carbonell’s
work, under the Director, Ricardo Gonzalez III. The years 1987-88 marked
a very creative and productive period for Carbonell. Lovers, mothers
and children, dancers and the female figure intensified as subject
matters in his artistic vision.
He redefined forms and contours, while maintaining the anatomical
essence of the human figure, bringing female sensuality to a point of
abstraction, while displaying a sense of aesthetic basic principles in a
simplified form. A continuance of one-man shows and exhibits along with
Art fairs nationally and internationally have since to date been part
of this relationship.
Having won a competition in 1989 to create a statue of the Cuban
Apostle Jose Marti for the San Carlos Institute in Key West, Florida. A
subject very close to his heart: the artist struggled with the challenge
of translating the human Marti into the idealized and heroic universal
figure that Marti philosophically and spiritually represented.
Conquering this challenge, in 1990 Carbonell moved to Pietrasanta, (Holy
Stone) Italy to carve a 6-foot marble sculpture that portrays Marti
with his left arm extended, as if to greet visitors, while the right
hand rest on a bundle of wheat surrounded by the Cuban flag. The
symbolism conveyed by the statue is that a cause, like one stalk of
wheat, may become weak, but becomes strong when its supporters band
The Miami River Bridge
Carbonell again won a competition in 1992
and was selected to create one of his most impressive commissioned
works of art, the 53-foot bronze monument “The Pillar of History”
located at the Brickell Avenue Bridge, Miami Florida.
Created in 1992 the monument reflects the history of the settlers of
Miami, from the indigenous to its pioneers. The monument consists of a
36-foot high bronze bas-relief column that graphically narrates the
lives of the Tequesta Indians, Miami’s first inhabitants and features
158 figures. At the top stands a 17-foot bronze sculpture, “Tequesta
Family” portraying a Tequesta Indian warrior aiming an arrow to the sky
with his wife and child at his side. In the niches at the supporting
piers are four 4-foot by 8-foot bronze bas reliefs honoring the quintessential Miami pioneers Henry Flagler, Dana A. Dorsey, William and Mary Brickell, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Julia Tuttle,
depicting them in their historical perpetual settings. Twelve bronze
bas-reliefs of Florida fauna are located at the base of the flagpole on
the sides of the bridge.
Certainly an invaluable opportunity, ” I was in love with the project,
first because the Tequesta’s are a fascinating people, second, because
it was such an important monument, with such tremendous dimensions. I am
convinced that, previously, long ago, there were many civilizations
more advanced than ours, who knew how to enjoy the beauty of the soul.
While I was in Pietrasanta, Italy to commence this two-year project, in
the middle of it, I suffered a stroke.
My left side was paralyzed, and being left-handed I was desperate. I
kept asking the medical staff, “listen, when can I once again begin to
move my arms, I am a sculptor”, the reply “be patient” which I am not.
On the one hand, I would tell myself, “look Carbonell, you are no longer
a sculptor, you have been a sculptor for more than seventy years, but
you are no longer a sculptor now. Your left hand is paralyzed. Nobody
can change that. It’s absurd but on the other hand, since I couldn’t
accept that, I would say, “yes, I can, I can change that”. The doctors
released me from the hospital so I could emotionally feel better and
come back in a couple of months to start my physical therapy. Ten days
later, I told my assistants to get me my tools and bring them to the
house because I wanted to start carving again. Shortly there after, my
therapy nurse that came to my house spread the news I was insane. All my
friends from the hospital arrived, they couldn’t believe that I was
already working, ok, maybe not with my left hand, but I was surely
working with my right hand. “My life is my work. And my work is my
Other monuments to follow
Between 1996 to 1999, Carbonell remained in Pietrasanta working on
two commissions for monumental sculptures: “El Centinela Del Rio”,
a 21-foot bronze sculpture depicting a Tequesta Indian blowing a conch
shell carved out of alabaster, located at Tequesta Point in Brickell
Key. Serving as a welcoming site to all, at the entrance of the mouth of
the river and the city of Miami and very near to the “Miami Circle”.
The other “The Manatee Fountain”,
consisting of three Indian children playing with two manatees, located
at the walkway between, Two and Three Tequesta Point condominiums on
Brickell Key. In addition, sculptures are presented in all three
buildings. Swire Properties and Manuel Carbonell have a unique
patronage, not only is there “The Swire Art Trust”, there is the “Swire
Carbonell Scholarship Fund” for the Florida International University
His modern monumental works, created in his unique and distinctive
personal style, are part of important art collections and public spaces,
“Couple in Love” adorns the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental, Miami,
“Lovers” is founded at the entrance of the Carbonell Condominium,
named in the artist honor, “Torso” formally at Selby’s Five Point Park,
downtown Sarasota is now at the von Liebig Art Center in Naples,
Florida, and “New Generation” in Xujianhui Park, Shanghai, China. The
sculpture of ” Amantes” now graces the grounds of the Hotel Bristol,
Republic of Panama.
Manuel Carbonell died at Kindred Hospital Coral Gables in Coral Gables, Florida, on November 10, 2011, at the age of 93.
He was survived by his two sisters, Josefina Gonzalez and Angela
Carbonell; niece, Clara Falcon; and nephews, Ricardo and Luis Gonzalez. His funeral mass was held at the chapel of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami.
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