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H. Lee Hirsche, 71, sculpted ship models


H. Lee Hirsche, a Baltimore artist whose fanciful and $l whimsical watercraft sculptures incorporated a variety of materials, died Nov. 27 of a stroke at a hospital in Westerly, R.I. He was 71.

Mr. Hirsche (pronounced "Hershey"), a resident of Mount Vernon Place, was stricken while visiting Block Island, R.I., with his family.

In a review this year of a local exhibition of Mr. Hirsche's works, Sun art critic John Dorsey wrote, "Lee Hirsche makes ship models, but no one should think Titanic. Hirsche's models are sculptures that exist in the realm of ideas."

He incorporated stones, driftwood or whatever caught his fancy into the unusual vessels that reflected his refined and heightened sense of the comic.

Born and raised in New London, Conn., he became interested in ship models as a youngster. His father, who was a volunteer restoring ship models at Mystic seaport, often took his son along to watch him work.

"Ships are probably some of the most beautiful forms," Mr. Hirsche said in an interview with Chesapeake Bay magazine last year.

Mr. Hirsche's pieces "were funny and tragic, yet graceful and fluid," said Carla Massoni, his agent and the owner of the Massoni Gallery in Chestertown.

"They were marvelous creations that made people stop, think and laugh. They were thought-provoking and philosophical. They pointed up man's ability at messing things up and human frailty," she said.

A 1945 graduate of the Loomis School, Mr. Hirsche served for two years in the Army Signal Corps before his discharge in 1947. He attended Kenyon College and earned a degree in fine arts from Yale University in 1954.

In 1956, after teaching in the architecture department of the University of Texas for two years, Mr. Hirsche joined the Williams College faculty in Williamstown, Mass., where he was a professor and established the college's studio art department.

While living in Williamstown, he established Sculpture Fountain Studio in North Adams, Mass., where he designed, built and installed fountains.

Two of his fountains are in Hong Kong. Six others are part of the Bernhard Music Center at Williams College. He retired from the college in 1985.

A resident of Mount Vernon Place since 1990, Mr. Hirsche worked in a small Read Street studio.

"Retirement didn't mean retirement to him," said his wife of 46 years, the former Nancy Hubbard. "It gave him time to pursue his own art."

Interested in a variety of media, Mr. Hirsche worked in oils, acrylics, collage, assemblage, wood carving, photography, metal graphics and pencil. His subjects were primarily landscapes, portraits and figure drawings.

"He could move from one medium to the other with unbelievable grace and mastery," said Ms. Massoni.

"His work was extraordinary throughout his life, but so was the man," said Ms. Massoni.

Mr. Hirsche also completed many public and private commissions. During the early 1970s, he created his largest work, a copper and bronze sacred screen that was installed at St. Paul's Church in Albany, N.Y.

Locally, he exhibited at the Sylvia Cordish Gallery, the Life of Maryland Gallery, Towson University and the Custom Framing Gallery.

He also exhibited at the Carlyn Gallery in New York, the Galeine Attelier in Philadelphia and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.

A quiet, easygoing man with a carefully trimmed mustache, Mr. Hirsche settled in Baltimore because of its cultural life.

A memorial service will be held in Baltimore in the spring.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Adam Hirsche of Merrimack, N.H., and Evan Hirsche of Chevy Chase; and two grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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