24 December 2010
This week a commemorative coin was released for Prince William and Kate Middleton's engagement, but the portraits, especially Kate's, were criticized for not resembling the young couple. No doubt it takes great skill to cast an accurate likeness in metal bas relief.
This news item caused me to remember Vivian Agostini (1902-1999), a gifted sculptor who did succeed in capturing the living beauty of Avatar Meher Baba’s profile in a bronze medallion.
Vivian was born Ida Losh in Russia in 1902. Her husband, Louis Agostini, was a secretary to Paul Brunton, the mystic who wrote negatively about Baba in his book A Search in Secret India, so Louis was initially skeptical about Baba. But after visiting Meher Center and reading Listen, Humanity and The Wayfarers, both he and Vivian were drawn into the Beloved’s orbit.
Louis described himself as a “Sunday painter,” but Vivian was a professional sculptor specializing in portraiture. Among her works is a masterful bronze bust of Elizabeth Patterson at Meher Center in Myrtle Beach. According to Louis, Elizabeth had sought Baba’s approval for the inscription at the base of the sculpture, “Elizabeth, Disciple of Baba”; Baba corrected it to read: “Elizabeth, Disciple of Meher Baba.”
When the 1962 East-West Gathering was announced, Louis was ready to go to India, but Vivian insisted she could not bow down to any man who called himself God. She changed her mind after Louis received a message from Baba saying he was happy that “at least one of you” was coming—yet they had not told Baba there were two of them!
Vivian’s first meeting with Baba upset her because Baba had barely looked at her (she thought at least he would compliment her on her bust of Elizabeth!); she wanted to go back to New York, but Louis helped her calm down. At the next gathering it was announced that there would be no more introductions or private meetings with Baba. But then Rano brought the message that Baba wanted to see Vivian Agostini! Baba indicated that he wanted to give Vivian a special embrace, but she could not accept it. She sank to her knees, telling Baba in tears how much she loved him. (And he did embrace her after all.)
After returning to New York, Vivian decided to sculpt the medallion in commemoration of this experience. The design was approved by Baba, and the medal was struck in 1964. It was reissued in 1994 in honor of Baba’s 100th birthday, and I received one as a gift, shown here in silver.