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This Artist's Life
In an interview, Norman Gitzen, sculpture artist based out of Lake Worth, Florida, gets candid about his love for Mother Nature and journey in the arts.
At the home of Norman Gitzen, off a quiet road in Lake Worth, Florida, a surprising blend of a wood workshop, artist gallery, forging tools, and eclectic keepsakes together in a fortress made of stone, stucco and solid wood. The cathedral front entrance –complete with a lion head door knocker – opens to a winding staircase that leads up to the living quarters, where medieval-style windows overlook a lush nature preserve, invoking the spirit of a fairytale. And why wouldn’t it? Gitzen’s home is a castle, after all.
It’s a cool Thursday morning in mid-March, and Gitzen, wearing work clothes and carrying a large can of peanuts, is wandering the driveway, gently calling to his neighborhood friends. After a few rattles of the can, one squirrel climbs up a stone column covered in monster vine and bougainvillea. Sensing a stranger on site, the squirrel hesitates and flicks its tail, before eventually climbing back down the column, and up the leg of Gitzen, grabbing a peanut with its front claws, before scampering off.
Gitzen keeps the can shaking, and for me, a fellow nature enthusiast, watching wild birds and squirrels emerge from their hiding places, illustrates a simple – yet profound – trust between man and animal. I count, in fact, at least a dozen squirrels and four or five bluejays coming forward for food and – quite possibly – friendship.
“They’re climbing on me all day long,” he says. “When I’m here alone, they’re all over this table, jumping on me for these peanuts.”
Videos of him hand feeding the animals have appeared in numerous Facebook posts over the years, including a few large iguanas in the mix. But the turtles –floating in a lagoon-like pond down the drive– rarely get any screen play. Grabbing a bag of bread, Gitzen walks to the pond’s edge and crouches down to greet them—all three, in fact. “On a warm morning, the turtles will be waiting for me. But just like the squirrels,” he says, “if they know someone else is here, they’ll hide at first.”
Clearly a man in his domain – where flowers and green Areca palms grow wild— he is king of these castle grounds.
“Actually,” he corrects me, chuckling and dismissing my castle claim, “it’s more like a mini-castle.”
Gitzen, a carpenter by trade, designed and built this Spanish Mediterranean-style home (his favorite type of architecture) in the mid-90s, even going so far as to hand carve wooden corbels, making each decorative embellishment into molds, and using them as pairs on the home’s exterior and interior. Not long after, he started showing these architectural sculptures at art shows, attracting the notice of several Palm Beach galleries, inspiring Gitzen to create more abstract and nonfunctional work. This eventuality led to the creation of a 10 foot tall mermaid made of steel and bronze. The mermaid - also known as ‘The Siren’ - made a splash in local and national news, setting off a flurry of breast-weary alarm bells back in 2005. But much has changed since then, including Gitzen, and the local art scene he’s long been part of.
As a boy, Gitzen developed a love and fascination for log cabins and building with wood. Growing up in central New York, he’d roam nearby woods, collecting stones and working with clay, even creating forts of his own. This boyhood fascination—or more like a calling— foreshadowed his later work as a carpenter here in South Florida. According to his website, you can find Gitzen’s work in many Palm Beach homes where he designed custom bars, entertainment centers and cabinetry–combining his earlier talents and experience with his newer interest in European-style construction and design. “ I fell in love with the architecture and all the decorations, the fountains, and the beauty of Mediterranean type homes,” he says. “And that’s the feel and look I wanted for my designs —both as a builder and an artist—as well.”
It’s clear that Gitzen has carved out a unique and undeniable niche in the art scene in South Florida and around the country. At one point, on any given weekend, you could find him inside an art booth—accompanied by his architectural sculptures, jewelry, objects made of stone and hand pounded steel or bronze, and forging tools—interacting with customers and fellow art aficionados. But the last three years have changed not only the local art show circuit, but Gitzen’s desire to participate. “Booth fees are too high,” he says. “Artists get charged so much and then, sometimes, you don’t sell a thing, but you just handed over $500 to be in the show.”
While many galleries and festivals are “back to normal” after a challenging –even puzzling–last few years, there’s no doubt that the pandemic changed the art scene as well as many relationships. Most people who know Gitzen, know his personal thoughts on the issue. But when pressed to comment more, he stays mum. He does readily admit, however, that from the very start, back in early 2020, he knew something was off. But– and we both agree– that’s a conversation for another time.
These days, Gitzen is laser-focused on fundraisers. Over the years, he’s participated in fundraising events such as the Palm beach County Boys and Girls Club, raising approximately $45,000 back in the early 2000s. And more recently, Horses Healing Hearts and The Bear’s Club (founded by Jack and Barbara Nicklaus).
He plans to continue his fundraising work and creating art inside his home workshop, while staying close to Mother Nature, his biggest muse. “My yard is a jungle planted on purpose,” he says. “People need to remember how important Mother Nature is, and we are killing her. Forget the manicured lawns, forget mowing and all the poisons, enough with the chemicals, don’t go down that route.”
For more information about Norman Gitzen and his work, visit the Norman Gitzen pGallery online or stop by his home studio to see what he’s working on.
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