American sculptor Robert Berks, the internationally known artist who has immortalized some of the world's most famous people in bronze portraits and statues, will create a monument to Latrobe native Fred Rogers, whose death two years ago from stomach cancer broke the collective heart of three generations of fans who spent their formative years in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
"I am so delighted that such a project is in the works," said Rogers' widow, Joanne, a pianist who these days is on a whirlwind tour promoting the latest book of Mister Rogers' quotes and the first release of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" episodes on DVD.
Joanne Rogers said the sculpture will be located in Pittsburgh, but a site has not been selected. Details of the project are being overseen by Family Communications Inc., which controls Misters Rogers' image. The nonprofit's president, William Isler, declined comment.
"He has been protecting -- we all have been protecting -- the donor, because the donor wishes to remain anonymous," Rogers said. "I think that Bob Berks has talked about it."
Although no official announcement has been made, Berks has quietly told people about the project, most recently on Saturday at a dinner at Princeton University when he described the piece to dinner companions as large and prominent.
Berks, whose studio is in Long Island, was not available yesterday for an interview.
Berks has created more than 300 portraits in bronze and more than a dozen monuments. His 9-foot sculpture of former Mayor Richard Caliguiri, who died in office in May 1988, stands on the steps of the City-County building and is one of the most prominent landmarks on Grant Street.
Joanne Rogers said she wants to see the Mister Rogers sculpture capture "Fred's love of children and his work with children.
"Bob Berks is an enormous fan of Fred's," she said. "He will get all of that."
Rogers said her husband was a huge Berks fan, as well.
"I think he would be amazed. I can say this: Berks was probably his favorite sculptor. He always wanted to go see Berks' Einstein whenever he was in Washington, D.C."
The 24-foot Einstein Centennial Monument is located on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences.
Berk has immortalized John F. Kennedy, 18th-century botanist Carolus Linaeus, Jane Fonda, Bob Hope, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ernest Hemingway, among others.
Stanley Stern, executive producer of Parallel Lines in East Hampton, N.Y., whose company has been filming Berks at work for several years for a documentary, initially hoped to include footage of the sculptor working on the Mister Rogers piece. That part of his film project fell through because he could not obtain the rights to film Berks.
He still hopes to include Berks' comments about the sculpture in the documentary and eventually obtain footage from Family Communications.
"Once they show it, we might be able to borrow it. They want to do a piece locally, for Pittsburgh," Stern said. "It's going to show Bob doing it and then unveiling it."
Johnna A. Pro can be reached at 412-263-1574 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view Berks' work, visit his Web site at robertberksstudios.com .