Former Soviet Artist Turns His Talents on Communism: Rockville Man Works toward Memorial for Its Victims

By Woellert, Lorraine | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

Former Soviet Artist Turns His Talents on Communism: Rockville Man Works toward Memorial for Its Victims


Woellert, Lorraine, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Sculptor Peter Shapiro once enjoyed the patronage of the Kremlin, where he captured the likenesses of Vladimir Lenin, Leonid Brezhnev and Fidel Castro in bronze and stone.

Now he's using the fame he won in Moscow to memorialize victims of the very men who made him a celebrity.

From a three-room basement apartment in Rockville, Mr. Shapiro plans for the Victims of Communism Memorial, a $25 million, privately funded project that already has received approval from Congress. Several of his busts will become part of the monument when it is built around the turn of the century.

But fame doesn't always travel well between nations, or between eras. So while Mr. Shapiro works to fulfill his dream, he also works to pay the rent.

Had he left Soviet Moscow a decade ago, he might have brought his renown with him to the United States - a great Russian artist fleeing the clutches of communism. But he moved to Rockville in 1994 and now is just another Russian immigrant.

In the apartment that is his home and studio, the floors are covered with plastic sheets and the walls are covered with Mr. Shapiro's past - dozens of pictures of his sculptures, busts and sketches. There's almost no furniture, and yet the place is welcoming.

Mr. Shapiro's wife, Angela, walks as if on tiptoe, her long blond ponytail swinging from high atop her head. She offers instant coffee, fruit and nuts. Gold holiday bulbs, the kind you would see on a Christmas tree, hang from the chandelier. A piece of pink chiffon laid over the lights casts a soft glow.

Mr. Shapiro pulls out pictures of his work, videotapes of his work, sketches, clay molds, letters of praise. The couple talk loudly and at the same time, Russian mixed with a smattering of English and lots of sign language.

"Hands are almost like a second face with a person. They're very expressive," Mr. Shapiro says, and his work embodies that philosophy.

His most famous sculpture, a bust of Nobel Prize winner and famed Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, is a head resting heavily on two hands. Copies of the bust are on display at the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Library of Congress.

"His rendering of Sakharov is a magnificent piece of work," says Lee Edwards, president of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. "It's marvelous. He's just a wonderful sculptor."

Mr. Shapiro is trying to rebuild a once-stellar career. It's not an easy thing to do at 64, but then again, it wasn't an easy thing to build in the first place, particularly in the Soviet Union. …

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