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Opening Statements & Press Coverage Aricle:
SingOut Article:

Photos by: Anne-Marie Caruso

Statement of Neal Rosenstein
Vice President, Puffin Foundation
Unveiling of Statue Honoring Singer-Activist Pete Seeger
May 5, 2018

Good afternoon. It’s truly a pleasure and an honor to be welcoming all of you to the official unveiling of this extraordinary sculpture honoring the life and work of the legendary singer-activist Pete Seeger.

Pete passed away just over four years ago, shortly after the death of his beloved wife Toshi. It was shortly after that time that Perry Rosenstein, the President of the Puffin Foundation decided that we should commission a work commemorating his life and achievements. Today, we celebrate the three-year journey to complete the work you see before you today. How fortunate we were to find former Teaneck resident Gary Sussman, whose talent and dedication brought this magnificent work to fruition.

One thing was vitally important to us here at Puffin as this project proceeded: That Seeger should be honored not only as one of America’s greatest folk artists, but as an activist who used his talent to fight for so many issues throughout his life. Issues that remain so important today for we still find ourselves in many of the same and many new threats to our country. We are indeed still Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. If you look at the figures behind Pete, they carry a message for future generations to see, that the fight for a better world is an ongoing work that requires us all: Those figures are holding the protest signs that help represent the force and principles behind so much of what he stood for: “The Hammer of Justice, the Bells of Freedom and …love between your brothers and your sisters all over this land.”

Seeger was well known for his environmental activism, the creation of the Clearwater and his love of the Hudson River, all also highlighted on this work. But it would be wrong to only commemorate these extraordinary achievements. His work for environment, and his beautiful Hudson Valley are represented here, but so also are the fight for labor rights, peace, civil rights, and the fight against fascism.

I’d like to digress for just a minute or two to tell a personal story. Back in 1979, I attended a large rally of 15,000, protesting the opening of the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island. Pete was the headliner, but before his set, it began to rain…and rain really hard. My friend Jed and I figured the best place to be on that wet beach would be under the elevated stage, so we snuck across the tape barrier and sought refuge underneath where we stayed dry. We were hungry and broke out a snack of raisin biscuits…kinda like thin fig newtons. As we huddled under the stage we were also very nervous, since we didn’t belong there, always looking over our shoulders to see if security would come to send us back out into the downpour. Well, pretty soon a hunched over figure came under the stage…and made his way toward us. It was Pete and we were terrified. Terrified that we were in the wrong place…and terrified that it was Seeger…Pete Seeger himself! He came over and sat down next to us and said hello. We were pretty awestruck, but Pete certainly wasn’t. He didn’t question who we were, or why we were there, and we just all sat there, under the stage in silence. Then I summoned up the courage to offer him a raisin biscuit. He declined…but then, I swear, I immediately said “It’s all natural”. He looked at me, paused for a moment and said “Well sure then.” And there we were, two bedraggled teenagers hanging out under a stage, eating raisin biscuits with the most famous folksinger in the world. It was a dream come true.

That’s the same dream we have for this statue. We didn’t want an imposing Pete, or a heroic Pete, or a Pete on a pedestal. We wanted a Pete that you could come and sit down next to and eat a raisin biscuit; or a Pete that kids could come over and sit in his lap…or climb all over him; or a Pete that a performer could come over and sit next to, and play a guitar with him.

Gary’s wonderful work not only captures the life and causes of this great American, it makes Pete accessible to everyone who comes to visit. On behalf of Perry & Gladys Rosenstein & the Puffin Foundation, we hope you’ll all take the time to sit down and spend some time with Pete.

It’s now my great privilege to introduce the sculptor, Gary Sussman. It’s been a truly wonderful experience to work with him over the past three years to bring this extraordinary work to the public.