EDWINA SANDYS: Granddaughter of Winston Churchill. A stunning redheaded wild woman with an intellect, a brilliant artist, and my former neighbour.
I used to live on an ocean block in Palm Beach, Florida.
My dear friend Carol Martino, who worked in mergers and acquisitions, lived directly across the street from me. In 2002, she went to jail for tax evasion and never returned home because she died of ovarian cancer. She was in her early forties.
Max and Louise Kaufman lived next door to me. He was Palm Beach’s society photographer for over 50 years and Louise kept busy attending to her litters of feral cats on the Island.
Our street boasted two of Addison Mizner’s exceptional examples of real estate. Mizner, who was one of the best known society architects of the roaring twenties, built 38 homes in Palm Beach but only a few of them are still standing. We have two on Seminole Avenue. Across the street on the south-east corner stands the original quaint 32-room Warden House which has been turned into 6 condo-apartments retaining its original features.
Five houses down from me, on the north-west corner of our block, in the other Mizner Mediterranean-style house lives Edwina Sandys (pronounced Sands) and her architect husband Richard Kaplan. Edwina is a renowned novelist, painter, sculpture and the granddaughter of Winston Churchill.
Peeking into their secret garden, a voyeur can catch a glimpse of life-size painted aluminum sculptures created by Edwina surrounding the swimming pool.
Her work reflects a strong social consciousness focusing on society, family, war and peace and women.
In 1990 her political and artistic passions were combined in a major piece ‘Breakthrough’ which is on display at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri where her grandfather gave his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946.
The sculpture is constructed from 8 massive sections of the Berlin Wall and features male and female forms cut out from the wall’s concrete surface. It invites viewers to walk through a once impassable barrier from dictatorship to democracy. One side is graffiti and the other side is blank.
‘The wall came down in 1989 and I did the piece in 1990. The idea was how to portray an abstract idea like freedom,’ said Sandys. ‘The wall represents a barrier and the man and woman breaking through the wall was the push for freedom. It was very relevant then and it’s relevant again today with walls being put up in Israel and Mexico.’
Sandys was born in 1938 and grew up in the post-World War 11 era often watching her grandfather Winston paint and work on the family farm. Her parents were Duncan and Diana Sandys. Diana was Churchill’s daughter and Duncan was from a prominent political family and a British politician for most of his life. Edwina’s first husband Piers Dixon, the father of her two sons, was also a politician. She flirted with politics but eventually made a name for herself in the world of art and literature.
She considers her sculpture ‘Christa’ to be her most influential work.
‘With ‘Christa’ I was trying to portray women suffering. It became very controversial. During that time Women’s Lib was prominent, even in London. So, I took something that was a man’s perspective and turned into a woman’s perspective.’ Her bronze female Christ on a cross, provoked a frenzy worldwide. It was her first work to be identified with feminism. In 1984, ‘Christa’ was on display at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York during Holy week. Apparently all hell broke loose. The press was there filming all day. The response was eclectic and ‘Christa’ became an incredible learning experience for people in the Church and for Churches all over the world. Paul Moore, the Bishop of New York, reminded the congregation that women as well as men are called upon to share the suffering of Christ.
Edwina’s giant sculptures are in sharp contrast to her irresistible, witty portraits.
Her 2007 ‘Pillars of Justice’ a painted 10-ton steel sculpture is supported by 11 columns shaped in human form. Edwina intentionally omitted one human column so a visitor can stand in the space and imagine being in the vacant spot becoming the important ‘twelfth juror’. It is prominently displayed in front of the courthouse where the jurors report at the Toronto Courthouse McMurtry Gardens of Justice.
Sandys is now in her 70s, still working and happily married to Richard Kaplan for 25 years. Richard, a semi-retired architect with a twinkle in his eye, is as spry as a teenager and like his wife is utterly amusing and charming.
They live in New York and Palm Beach, Florida.
They met because she needed a lift to the Hamptons, and he arrived to drive her out there, bringing her the gift of a red rose tucked into a lettuce.
One of her pieces called ‘Marriage Bed’ ( 2001), is based on the idea that marriage is a bed of nails and roses.
‘People see a lot in that sculpture. At first you notice the beautiful roses. Then you notice the bed. Then you notice the nails. I think many really identify with that because they’ve either experienced a wonderful love or a rotten one, or something in between.’
People often ask Sandys if her husband minds her portraying marriage that way.
‘No, she says. ‘We’re still married.’
‘I don’t live all my life thinking I’m Winston Churchill’s granddaughter,’ says Edwina Sandys. ‘I’m ambitious and I want my work to be enjoyed and inspiring to people. I would like it to have an immediate, instant impact. You look at it first because it catches your eye. And you want to look at it again. Then you realize it’s something different than what you originally thought, something that makes you think beyond the initial experience.’