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Edwina Sandys keeps history alive through art

Cause Celeb talks with Edwina Sandys, sculptor, painter and granddaughter of Winston Churchill, about her involvement with theWinston Churchill Memorial and Library in Fulton, Mo.
Edwina Sandys at the “Breakthrough” Exhibition preview at Chelsea Art Museum on Nov. 5, 2009.
Edwina Sandys at the “Breakthrough” Exhibition preview at Chelsea Art Museum on Nov. 5, 2009.Giacinta Pace / NBC News
/ Source: NBC News

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with , sculptor, painter and granddaughter of Winston Churchill, about her involvement with the in Fulton, Mo. Located on the campus of Westminster College in Fulton, the museum is an extensive research base for people interested in learning from the lessons of history, as well as a venue for special art and historical exhibitions. In November 2009 the Memorial and Library hosted numerous programs, called the , in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sandys works closely with the museum as a member of their board of trustees, helping to ensure her grandfather’s legacy throughout the United States. We spoke with her at an exhibition of her work, “Breakthrough,” on display at Chelsea Art Museum.

Q: Can you tell me about the Winston Churchill Memorial Library?

Sandys: The Winston Churchill Memorial Library was set up by the people of Fulton [Missouri] to commemorate the famous speech that my grandfather made in 1946, which was known as the “Iron Curtain” speech. He said “an iron curtain will descend across the continent of Europe” and that was more or less the naming of the Cold War. In 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, that became the physical embodiment of the Iron Curtain.

The people in Fulton, where the speech had been made, decided to set up a memorial, which became a museum for Churchill. They got a bombed-out [Christopher Wren] church, sent brick-by-brick from London, and that became the museum. Many years later, when the Berlin Wall fell I brought eight sections of the Berlin Wall and set them up, in Fulton, as a sculpture. It was 32 feet of the Berlin Wall and I cut out two spaces, one like a man and one like a woman, and people can walk through it and feel as if they’re coming from east side to west side and can make their own breakthrough.

Q: When did you first get involved with the organization?

Sandys: Many, many years ago, when I first came to America, I met the people who had set up this museum, and I visited Fulton. From then, I got on the board of trustees. It was a wonderful museum about my grandfather, and particularly about the speech he made. I got to know everybody; I’ve been there many, many times. I had an exhibition of my paintings and sculpture there. Then, when it happened [the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989], I thought, this was the perfect place to bring this to.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the most impressive thing the organization does?

Sandys: It keeps alive the memory of my grandfather in the United States. It also reminds people that we should know some history because it may be repeated.

Q: Is there a moving or memorable moment that you’ve had while working with this organization?

Sandys: One of the most exciting moments I had, which was also moving, was when Mikhail Gorbachev came. He walked through the breakthrough sculpture and made a speech, his first speech in the United States since he had lost his job as general secretary of the Soviet Union. Although we couldn’t really communicate properly, because I couldn’t speak Russian and his English wasn’t much, you have to make extra effort with the 'how do you do,' and the body language. You could tell that he’s a really human person.

Q: What are some of the things the library does?

Sandys: They have two lecture series a year and they get very interesting people to come — they’ve had a lot of presidents, ex-presidents. At the moment, they’re celebrating the Berlin Wall, also, because they have the big sculpture I made. But the students are building their own Berlin Wall and they’re going to knock it down, pull it down on the 9th, [of November 2009, which was the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall].

Q: That’s fantastic. Tell me a little bit about one especially fond memory of your grandfather.

Sandys: Well I, myself, as an artist, one of my earliest memories is standing behind him while he was painting. He would mostly be painting landscapes. But that was exciting, he was the first artist I ever knew, and of course, in those days I didn’t know I would become an artist. But that was a very special thing, and he was off-duty then, when he was painting, it was one of the things he enjoyed doing.

Q: What are some of your current projects you have right now?

Sandys: I’m working on gathering information for a book on my aunt, which is quite a lot. Even though I’m not writing it, it’s the getting all the photographs together. Luckily my husband, Richard Kaplan, in the last 25 years has taken photographs of almost everything I have made, but I still have to gather some of those before he was on the scene.