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The Secret Bench of Knowledge

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The Secret Bench 1AThe Secret Bench of Knowledge was Bonita Springs’ very first outdoor public artwork. It was originally installed in Naples, but after some people complained that the imagery seemed suggestive, the City Council there asked the artist to remove it. It was moved to the Bonita Springs Community Hall, where it sat on loan from the artist from 2003 until December 7, 2005, when it was purchased by the City of Bonita Springs following a grassroots fundraising effort led by then Mayor Jay Arend’s wife, Amy, who chaired the Committee to Save the Bench. The Secret Bench of Knowledge continues to be one of Bonita Springs’ most popular public artistic landmarks.

 

Other Secret Benches.

The Secret Bench 2AIt is the artist’s practice to make seven castings of each sculpture she creates. Accordingly, there are six other Secret Benches. The others are located:

  • in front of the Wellington Street Library and National Archives of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario;
  • in front of the Professional Engineers Building on Young Street in Toronto, Ontario;
  • at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec;
  • at 825 Fifth Avenue in New York City, New York;
  • outside the London Stock Exchange in London, England; and
  • in Fort Lauderdale.

Secret Bench in Ottawa with Lea VivotThe Secret Bench of Knowledge that is located at the entrance to the Wellington Street Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa is the best known of the seven castings. The sculptor, Lea Vivot, installed it without permission in front of the building around 9 p.m. one night in early May, 1989. When people arrived for work the next morning, they were delighted to see the new addition and assumed that it had been put there by another government department. The Secret Bench 3A“The building needed something and I don’t feel that artists have the time to go through the bureaucratic approach,” Vivot told the Ottawa Citizen. “In the same amount of time that it would take to go through all this (bureaucracy) I can cast another sculpture and enhance another space.”

A year later, Vivot took the sculpture back with a promise to provide the National Library with another casting. Four years later, she fulfilled her promise when businessman and philanthropist Eugene Boccia sponsored its replacement. At 9 a.m. on the morning of May 1, 1994, Vivot unveiled the new Secret Bench of Knowledge in front of a crowd of about 3,000 people.

As they inspected the bronze bench, viewers discovered that the new sculpture contained Writings 3Amany messages about the pleasure and importance of reading that that the original didn’t have. That’s because Vivot had solicited entries from schoolchildren, writers and Writings 2Apoets across Canada for the new casting. She sent those she selected a wax mold on which to inscribe their message. The returned molds Writings 1Awere used in the ensuing casting. One mold was made by a young blind boy from Spruce View, Alberta by the name of Gabriel McBride. Vivot not only engraved his message on the bench in Braille, she had him assist her in the unveiling.

The sculpture has become one of Ottawa’s most popular photographic subjects. Every day, cars stop in front of the Library and Archives of Canada and passengers climb out eagerly to have their pictures taken on the bench.

 

About Lea Vivot

Secret Bench 21Lea Vivot is an internationally-renowned artist who resides in Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada. She was born in Sumperk, Czechoslovakia and is active in sculpture, drawing and printmaking. Presently she creates in Kleinburg, New York, Acapulco and the Czech Republic.
Vivot has studied at the Prague School of Stage Design in Czechoslovakia, the Academia di Brera The Secret Bench 4Ain Italy, the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, and the Art Student’s League in New York. Her career as an artist began in the seventies when she began working on bronze sculptures. She quickly gained prominence for her life-size bronzes, such as Lover’s Bench.
Lea’s benches have become her trademark. Her sculptures are always full of humanity and she often depicts families, couples, mothers and children. The Secret Bench 6AThe large scale of her work demands interaction with the public, who naturally enjoy to occupy the same space as the bronze figures. On the benches, Vivot likes to include inscribed messages by people from all walks of life. The various editions of the Secret Bench, Lost Paradise found in Toronto, Montreal and New York all have handwritten messages expressing the hopes and fears of children. Most of the messages talk about the joy and value of reading. Lea once said “knowledge belongs to all, and what is not written is forgotten.”Fast FactsSculptor Lea Vivot originally named her sculpture Secret Bench, Lost Paradise.

Fast Facts.

  • The Secret Bench Panoramic View 2AVivot originally named her sculpture Secret Bench/Lost Paradise.
  • When Vivot decided in January of 2005 that it was time for Bonita Springs to either purchase or return the piece, she claimed that someone in England was willing to buy it for $150,000, which the City was welcome to match. She lowered the asking price to $95,000 and ultimately sold it to Bonita Springs for $57,000, deciding that the Bench was best for Bonita The Secret Bench 8Aafter seeing how hard the community worked to secure the piece. “After what I have seen, what effort they put into it, I decided I couldn’t take it away,” Vivot said at the time.
  • “You have to sell a lot of pancakes and T-shirts to raise that kind of money,” quipped Amy Arend, whose Committee to Save the Bench raised the needed funds in a scant ten months.
  • Among those who’ve contributed messages to the bench are writer W.P. Kinsella and poet George Elliott Clarke.
  • Eight year old Nicholas DeFazio wrote, “I love hockey, books and I like to read in bed.”
  • Carol Ramsey, also 8, added, “I like books because you can use your imagination.”

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