The Wurster Interviews, Part 10: The Less Early But Still Early Years of PPE

Read previous installments:     Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5      Part 6      Part 7      Part 8      Part 9

Whatever Happened to The Famous Rider

So thinking about it, I didn’t really know for sure. So I asked Mike Milberger. Mike and Larry were really close. Mike said it just sort of petered out, as many things do.

CompAd, Larry’s company, was supporting The Famous Rider — because art frequently does not cover its cost of production. Carolyn became pregnant, several key theater people left — one to New York, another to an Ivy League school to pursue an MFA.

So The Famous Rider came to an end. Shortly afterwards, the building burned down. Shortly after that, the building next to The Famous Rider, which housed CompAd, burned down. The nearby Episcopal church wanted to sell the church to Carlow, but they were prevented from doing so because of the historic designation of the church building. Surprise! The church burned down. The land was sold to Carlow and they have several handsome buildings on that property.

Larry was from Glencoe, New York. The (Soviet) Russians had a facility there for spying. They spied on us, we spied on them. Lots of electrical activity and God knows what else. Larry died of a brain tumor, as did many who had grown up in Glencoe in those days. He was a fine man and a brilliant visionary. I haven’t stayed in touch with Carolyn, but I hope she’s doing well.

Statue of Life, Inc.

Van-de Robert Campbell was from Jamaica. While a student at California University of the Arts, also known as CalTech, he met Carole Martine, sister of the architect John Martine. Carole was also a student there.

Van-de and Carole fell in love, got married, and moved back to Pittsburgh, which was Carole’s home. It was in Pittsburgh that Van-de launched Statue of Life, Inc., an international artists’ collective. He reached out to local artists. Gene King was vice president. I was poetry editor of the art magazine Stuff, and ambassador to the poetry community.

Stuff was very popular. Young people would buy it thinking it was a drug magazine. They’d leaf through it and say, “Hey man, where’s the stuff?”

The central component of Statue of Life, Inc. was the actual statue. It was dedicated to life. I have a copy of the architectural plans in my archives. I wish I could remember what it looked like so I could describe it to you. I do remember that it was a tall, artistic building on a revolving base. The statue would house an international egg museum. On the day the statue was inaugurated, each country’s ambassador would enter the statue carrying their country’s national egg.

The statue never became a reality, but it did get far enough that companies like Bechtel, Inc. submitted bids for construction and six states responded positively to a prospectus Van-de sent to them.

The governor who was most excited about having the statue was Ross Barnett of Mississippi. He made the best proposal offering the most help, financial and otherwise. Since Mississippi was still virtually a slave state at the time, this created a crisis for Van-de.

Statue of Life, Inc. was located on East Carson Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side. It housed offices and an art gallery as well as living quarters for Van-de and Carole. The building was designed by Carole’s brother John.

In addition to shows in the art gallery and the publication of the art magazine Stuff, Statue of Life, Inc. produced special events out in the community. One of these was an art show and poetry reading in Point State Park the weekend prior to the Three Rivers Arts Festival that year (can’t remember what year).

Again, the expenses of producing art exceeded the income. Van-de’s mother owned a chain of liquor stores in Florida. She finally convinced Van-de and Carole to relocate to Florida, where Van-de entered liquor store management.

Next in issue 14: THE SOUTH SIDE


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