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Mirko Basaldella, sculptor-in-residence and Director of Design Workshops at the Carpenter Center, died of a heart attack Monday night. He was 59 years old and had been working regularly at the VAC last week.
Mirke-he preferred to use only the first name-came to America from Rome in 1957 to organize Harvard's design courses, although he was already an internationally prominent sculptor. At the time Harvard offered only one or two workshop courses which were given through the Graduate School of Design under the Department of Architectural Sciences.
Founded Vis Stud Department
Before the Carpenter Center opened in 1963. Mirko and an assistant taught all design courses in an old bindery building on the site of what is now Peabody Terrace. In 1968. he joined with Eduard F. Sekler. professor of Architecture, Robert G. Gardner, and former chairman of the Architectural Sciences Department, Norman Newton, to build the undergraduate program which has become the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies.
"Mirko was at home on all levels of abstraction in most artistic techniques." Sekler said yesterday. "He had an incredible richness of imagination, and whatever he saw he could turn into a work of art if he wanted to."
His best known work is the bronze gates to the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome, which commemorate the Italian Resistance of World War II. According to Sekler, the gates "have set a standard for monumental architectural sculpture in our time."
Even though Mirko had a studio on the VAC's fifth floor, he was thought of more as teacher than sculptor around Harvard. This was partly because he always maintained that "I am not a star" and declined to show his work at the center.
He did, however, have one-man shows in 1958 at the Fogg, 1964 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and 1967 at the DeCordova, as well as shows in New York, Rome and elsewhere.
Mirko could only speak softly, but he always got excited when a student made something that showed a new level of understanding. And his sculpture, too, tended to be gentle, even when monumental.
His forms came from nature, and much of his work was anthropomorphic, often totem-like. But he could be whimsical and visually witty too, because, he said. "sometimes you play." Much of his work is east bronze, with a good deal of surface texture. He worked with anything from styrofoam to wooden beams from razed houses.
The Ford Foundation gave him a grant this year to return to Rome (where he spent every summer) so he could sculpt rather than teach next semester. Mirko was anxious to go. "I am not so young," he explained; there was work to get done and sculptures yet to make.
Mirko is survived by his wife, Serena; his two brothers Afro and Dino, both Italian sculptors; and his mother, who lives in Udine, Italy, Mirko's birthplace. There will be a giant retrospective exhibit of Mirko's work in Rome this spring.
Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. next Tuesday in Memorial Church.
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