Sculptor Patrick Morelli brings passion for fine arts to Amsterdam

Photo by Tim Becker

Hidden up on the second floor of the old Noteworthy building, now called The Rao Center and home to the Walter Elwood Museum as well as several thriving small businesses, internationally recognized sculptor Patrick Morelli has built an engagingly personal studio and museum that is now open for tours by appointment. I recently got the chance to talk with Morelli about his vision for the museum as well as hear the stories behind many of the exhibits he has on display.

“I had been in business up until my early thirties working at the World Trade Center, and I quit it all and just started sculpture. Which was really really stupid,” said Morelli with a laugh, “because I had this really great job…I’m not all there, let’s face it, okay because nobody quits a job like that to go into art in Manhattan, start waiting on tables, struggling to make the rent, having this belief that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Morelli said his first major piece of sculpture was a figure titled Behold which was inspired by the infant naming scene in the critically acclaimed 1977 miniseries Roots.Through a connection he made at ABC, Morelli was able to present his sculpture to Roots producer David Wolper who ended up buying four of them.

Later, through a connection at the NAACP, Morelli had the opportunity to pitch the idea of building a 10 foot version of the sculpture to Coretta Scott King and board members of the King National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. The board accepted his idea, and granted him space at the site for the project, but not the funding to actually build it. Morelli said he spent almost 10 years trying to raise the $500,000 needed for the project.

The bronze piece was finally completed and unveiled in 1990. However, the public got an early look at a lighter weight bonded bronze version of the sculpture shown indoors at the site on January 15, 1986, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and the first year that Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated nationally.

“There were 700 reporters covering King Week,” recalled Morelli of the festivities that ran from January 11th to the 20th, “it was like a who’s who of everyone in the world.”

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A separate casting of the infant portion of the sculpture is now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Morelli said that one of the most rewarding parts of the project was when he was able to enlist the help of New York City schoolchildren through an Adopt A School program to work on the molding for the statue, some of whom were able to attend the final unveiling.

The project was “maybe the first time in history when students worked on a national monument,” according to Morelli. “I took kids out to the foundry from schools in Manhattan and they actually worked on the 10 foot wax.” He went on to explain the process of creating a sculpture mold starting as clay, then plaster, then wax, before ending up with the final bronze statue.

Education is a major part of Morelli’s vision for the museum. Another section of the museum space is dedicated to an arts education program called We Are One which was conceived by Morelli to promote tolerance and human understanding.

Photo by Tim Becker

The program was first conducted from 1990 to 1993 at New York City public schools and involved children drawing or coloring designs on paper cutouts of human figures. The designs are then transferred onto rigid foam core. Students and teacher then select their favorite designs to be transferred to seven-foot wooden figures which can be displayed indoors or outdoors. The program is available to be licensed by any school or organization, with Morelli providing the training and guidance to the teachers on how to conduct it. According to Morelli, classes at Fulton Montgomery Community College and Amsterdam High School will be using the program this school year.

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Morelli also plans to offer free seminars at the museum on “How to create, produce, promote and profit from positive permanent portrayals of ethnicity, race, nationality, gender and religion in American mass media, entertainment, news, and advertising.”

Another wall of the museum is dedicated to showing pieces of a multi-part memorial designed by Morelli to honor those killed during the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Photo by Tim Becker
Photo by Tim Becker

The memorial is located in Essex County, NJ on a hill overlooking New York City and was originally commissioned in order to honor those from the county who lost their lives in the attack. The design evolved to include all those who lost their lives on that day and was unveiled in 2002. According to Morelli, the site is under review by the National Park Service for a National Historic Site designation.

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Also featured is a smaller scale sculpture titled La Bellisima America which depicts Italian American immigrants. Castings of the sculpture have been presented to a long list of dignitaries including Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and former NY City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani. Inspiration for the piece came from a 1916 photograph of an Italian immigrant family standing at the railing of a ship that brought them to Ellis Island. Morelli’s father and maternal grandparents emigrated from Italy in the early 1900’s.

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Off the main museum room are three smaller rooms containing the office, studio, and a room containing several smaller busts and statues. In the studio, we looked at three designs that were originally commissioned for the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge. Since estimates for the bridge came in over the amount funded by NY State, production of the artwork was cut from the project in order to stay within the budget.

Morelli’s passionate belief in the power of art to transform one’s view of self and others, and his willingness to invest in that belief in the Amsterdam community is something we should be eager to embrace. If you would like to find out more information about the museum or schedule a tour, please visit There are many other exhibits to see and stories to hear at the museum.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.