Act Three––Becoming a Successful Artist at 85
A philanthropist/entrepreneur turns to sculpting
Photo by Christina Rahr Lane
One morning, Harold Grinspoon looked out a window of his home in Agawam. His vision rested upon a large cherry tree that had been lying there for some years, but on that particular morning he focused on a bend in the trunk he hadn’t seen before. The tree as a sculpture leapt forward in his mind. “I had always had a passion for the arts,” he says, “but it wasn’t until that day that I wanted to create art myself.”
That was two years ago, when Grinspoon was 87 years old. That cherry tree is now one of 17 sculptures—all made from trees—that he has since created. Working in his shop in Longmeadow, alongside assistants who help him with his carving, Grinspoon now transforms fallen trees into stunning pieces of art.
His work as a tree sculptor opened a new chapter in Grinspoon’s life and is, in many ways, his third career. The first chapter began in the 1960s when he purchased a dilapidated two-family home in Springfield with money borrowed from an in-law. He repaired the house, rented it out for a profit, and bought two more houses. Then more houses. Before long, he found himself established in a highly lucrative and expansive real estate business in which he purchased and managed properties throughout the Northeast.
His success with his first career led to his second—the establishment, in 1991, of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation. With a mission of enhancing Jewish life, the Foundation’s philosophy was infused with Harold’s business acumen: visionary ideas, dynamic partnerships, and a focus on return on investment. To date, the foundation has invested more than $200 million dollars in initiatives focused on education, farming, and entrepreneurship, all in Western Massachusetts. During that time, Grinspoon also served as a board member for numerous national and international organizations. He has been affiliated with many Berkshires organizations as well, including Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Chesterwood, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Berkshire Grown, and many others.
Today, Grinspoon lives in both Agawam and Lenox with his wife Diane Troderman, a former high school teacher who has worked closely alongside Grinspoon in all of his professional, philanthropic, and personal endeavors. When he isn’t hiking, exercising, traveling, or continuing to work with his real estate business and foundation, you can find him at work on another of his growing series of tree sculptures.
In June, Grinspoon spent a day overseeing the installation of one of his tree sculptures on the grounds of the former home of author Edith Wharton in Lenox, as part of a collaboration between The Mount and SculptureNow. A project of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, SculptureNow is a nonprofit organization with a mission of expanding the experience and knowledge of art in general and sculpture in particular in the Berkshires, through exhibitions, presentations and free workshops. Grinspoon’s sculpture in this year’s exhibition is one of 30 large-scale installations on the grounds of The Mount until the end of October.
What is beneficial to the artists whose work is on display, and the community that experiences their work, is a positive for The Mount as well. “When we first started our collaboration with SculptureNow, we saw it as a great opportunity to showcase the work of regional and local artists,” says Susan Wissler, The Mount’s executive director. “What we didn’t know was how the sculptures would impact the visitor’s experience of The Mount. We have discovered that our guests now spend as much time exploring the entire property as they do touring the formal gardens and house.”
For Grinspoon, having his work exhibited in the Berkshires is especially significant because of his deep love for and connection with this region. His familiarity with the Berkshires began with his real estate work, when he acquired property here decades ago; now it’s his favorite place to be. “In the summer,” he says, “there are always three events a day that Diane and I want to be at, as well as the farmers markets and hiking spots, and all in such a laid-back, casual environment. Where else do you find that?”
Grinspoon’s friends and colleagues marvel that he started an entirely new career at an age many of us would call advanced. Grinspoon himself seems less surprised. “Being an entrepreneur is about having an eye for opportunity and creativity. Starting a foundation was about those things too. Seeing what it possible in a fallen tree is no different. And making something out of it—making it into something that adds to the community—seems better than just getting rid of it.
A Walk in the Sculpture Garden
Edith Wharton once wrote,"There are only four great arts: music, painting, sculpture, and ornamental pastry." In honor of the authors' passion for art and culture, SculptureNow is presenting a sprawling outdoor exhibition through October 31 at The Mount in Lenox. Visitors can download the app Otocast or scan the QR code on a map of the exhibit for a virtual tour. Artist-guided tours take place July 15, August 12, September 16, and October 14.