Aristides Burton Demetrios, 1932-2021
Aristides (Aris) Burton Demetrios was born in Lincoln, Massachusetts, on February 17,1932. He was born to a family of celebrated artists. His father was classical sculptor George Demetrios, who was a student of Bourdelle and had studied with Rodin. His mother was Virginia (Jinnee) Lee Burton, a celebrated author illustrator of children’s books, including “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” and Caldecott prizewinner “The Little House,” although Aris’ favorite was “Choo Choo,” because it was dedicated to him. His grandfather, Alfred Edgar Burton, was the dean at MIT, and his uncle Harold Burton was a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, having been appointed to the court after his tenure as the U.S. Senator from Ohio.
In 1932, his family moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts, because they were attracted to the number of artists who resided in this oceanside town, that had the feel of an idyllic European village, and a very diverse population of people from Greece, Finland, England, Italy, and the like. Aris’ brother Mike was born shortly thereafter; he was the model for the little boy in the Mike Mulligan book. The family home was the inspiration for the illustrations in the book, The Little House.
Aris attended Gloucester public schools. After graduating from Gloucester High School with highest honors, he went to Harvard University on an NROTC scholarship, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree, with a dual major in history and literature. Throughout his 60-plus years as a contemporary sculptor, the influence of his history and literature majors was always evident. Every sculpture had a story that was intended to captivate those who admired the art.
After graduating from Harvard, Aris spent three years in the Navy as an officer, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. He then returned to Gloucester for three years to study with his father at his drawing school, where he learned the basics of illustration and sculpture. Trained as a classical sculptor, Aris was nonetheless anxious to carve out a unique artistic style of his own; he chose contemporary art as his preferred medium. He worked primarily in bronze and steel. Most of his early pieces are either volumetrics or figurative.
In the early 1960s, Aris moved to Northern California and started to enter national sculpture competitions; he gained tremendous acclaim and recognition when he won the competition to design and fabricate a fountain for Stanford University for two students whose lives were tragically cut short. The water in the fountain was intended to symbolize the fact that one would never know what path these young men might have taken, which is why the pattern of water is never the same. The fountain he designed was called the White Memorial Fountain, but it was quickly dubbed “Mem Claw” by the students, a name that stayed with a fountain that for the last 60 years, has been an icon on the Stanford campus, recognized worldwide by Stanford alums. Indeed, 60 years after the fountain was designed and installed, the Stanford Student Association this last year asked Aris’ permission to make a replica of his fountain for the logo for their hats and other Stanford paraphernalia, which they now proudly wear.
Shortly after winning the Stanford competition, Aris won the competition hosted by David and Lucile Packard to design the fountain to grace the entry to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The fountain he designed and fabricated was called “Forms Sung In A Kelp Forest”; the bronze pieces were meant to emulate the kelp in the aquarium. On the heels of these two early artistic successes, Aris was commissioned to do the sculpture for the Bataan War Memorial in Corregidor, the Courthouse in Sacramento, and ultimately for hundreds of other public spaces. Almost all of these commissions were for large-scale volumetric or figurative pieces, ranging in size from 10 feet to the 102-foot Wind Harp in San Francisco. A trip from Los Angeles to Northern California would be filled with countless opportunities to see Demetrios Sculptures, in a variety of wonderful settings.
In the 1980s, Aris shifted his focus to doing more commissions for private collectors; many of his works from this period are of a smaller scale. In 1998, already a hugely successful sculptor, he moved to Santa Barbara with his wife, Ilene H. Nagel; he set up an atelier on the UCSB campus and for two years, trained several students who went on to become successful local artisans. Between 1998 and when Aris passed away in 2021, he did more than 100 sculptures for private collectors in Santa Barbara, and throughout California.
On two occasions, Aris was awarded the Santa Barbara Beautiful Award; first, for his sculpture “Mentors,” on the Santa Barbara City College campus, and more recently for the sculpture the “Dance of Life,” which graces the entry to the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center. “Mentors” was commissioned by philanthropists Michael Towbes and Eli Luria; “The Dance of Life” was commissioned by Herb and Elaine Kendall. In addition to these two iconic local sculptures, the sculptures of Aris Demetrios have been featured in museum and gallery shows throughout California. His works are also shown in Japan, in Missouri, in New York, and across the United States.
Philanthropist Richard Goldman and his wife, Rhoda Haas, commissioned Aris to design the sculpture that serves as the award for the Goldman prize, which is annually given to the individual on each of the seven continents who contributes the most to saving the environment. And he designed the Mother’s Day Award as well, given annually by the Santa Barbara VNA to the Mother of the Year.
In October 2021, Aris and Ilene attended a week-long celebration of Aris’ life and work in his hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where they unveiled and installed his latest sculpture, an eight-foot stainless steel volumetric piece entitled Etruscan King and Consort at the new Wilber and Janet James campus of the Cape Ann Museum. This latest sculpture has been met with widespread acclaim.
Aris passed away on Sunday, December 12, in the early morning, surrounded by family. He was a brilliant sculptor, a model of generosity, a devoted husband, and a dedicated father, who enjoyed the friendship of an enormous number of Santa Barbara residents who loved his infectious smile, his lust for life, and his warm and gracious personality.
Aris is survived by his wife Ilene H. Nagel, his son Eames Demetrios and his wife Shelley Mills, and his grandsons, Xander and Guthrie Demetrios. In lieu of flowers, the family invites those who wish to honor Aris’ memory to make donations to the Aris Demetrios Sculpture Program Fund at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts.