Bob Dombrowski, 75, was an artist, sculptor, poet, bagpipe player and deep thinker. He died in Wildwood on Dec. 16, 2019.
Bob defined himself by his work. He started his career by playing bagpipes in the streets of San Francisco, before he began traveling until he reached Manhattan, where he supported himself with street music. Soon enough he was performing in avant-garde spaces and became part of those circles of artists.
Like other street artists of that moment, he worked illegally and quickly to install a series of painted “sign” sculptures on Manhattan street poles, always managing to escape arrest. In conjunction with other street artists, he made a challenge to the art establishment, paving the way for “guerrilla” street art.
While in New York, Bob met his partner and fellow artist, Mary Petruska. They shared a rooftop garden loft in the flower district. Singularly and collaboratively they created art and hosted gatherings on the rooftop of their loft. Together with the art community, Bob hosted, influenced and collaborated with other artists, creating the epicenter of the street art movement. Many ideas that paved the way for art in New York City were discussed in that loft around a small round table and a bottle of wine.
Bob and Mary knew how to celebrate life and were known for attracting friends from all walks of life, religious beliefs and political affiliations. Their thirst for a deeper understanding of people made them both excellent hosts and true friends. During their years in New York, every fall, Mary would take a weekend to bake challah bread. Their doors were open then for the many artists who would come to the loft to eat the warm challah with butter along with whatever would appear on the round table where Bob was holding court.
While the majority of Bob's art was found on street poles and his hand-carved marble sculptures installed on abandoned lots around New York City, his work was also shown in galleries such as Franklin Furnace and the Kitchen, as well as other performance venues such as Rivington School, No Se No and the outdoor studio on lower Avenue C, known as the "Gas Station." Legend has it that some of his sculptures still exist in New York City in backyards and small gardens. A few of his outdoor streetlight-pole pieces still remain installed high up at points around Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.
There are remnants of an installation approved by the city and sponsored by the Nico Smith Gallery during the mid-'80s, of painted metal cut-out gargoyle-like sculptures installed high up all around the park. Others were installed in the Financial District and in midtown on the West Side.
In 2003, Bob and Mary were “kicked out” of New York by the quickly evolving housing developments. Together, Bob and Mary began their search for a new life in a new place and were recommended Wildwood, Georgia, by some dear friends
who reside in the Chattanooga area. After moving to Dade County, Bob formed the Trenton Arts Council, which birthed many public art projects around Trenton including a banner project which featured banners made by local artists hung in the city of Trenton.
Public sculptures were also installed around the city in temporary and permanent installations. Bob was commissioned to install a hand-carved marble sculpture in Jenkins Park where he also built a garden in collaboration with the Trenton Arts Council and Tree City, USA.
Another collaborative project engineered by Bob involved the state of Georgia, the city of Trenton, the industrial-based National Boiler Service, and the Trenton Arts Council. Located on the corner of Highway 11 and Morrison Ridge Road, Bob’s drawings were brought to life in a project that highlights Bob’s belief that in a small community, public art can bring people together in unique ways. Surrounding these sculptures are several hazelnut trees planted by Tree City USA.
Bob Dombrowski positioned numerous hand-carved stone sculptures in both private collections and public gardens across the country. In keeping with the spirit of public art, Bob also believed in spreading his art freely when possible, so he created small printed books with poetry and drawings. Many friends and strangers who crossed Bob’s path were given one of these books. Many of his books are archived at Poet’s House and Printed Matter, both in NYC. Several of his earlier silkscreened books are archived in the Museum of Modern Art. The Dade County Public Library still has an extensive collection of these from an exhibit Bob did there.
Bob was born on February 16, 1944, in Buffalo, New York, and died on December 16, 2019, in his Wildwood farm home.
He was preceded in death by his partner of over 30 years, Mary Petruska, as well as his parents, Mary and Edward Dombrowski.
He is survived by his brothers, Thomas Dombrowsi (wife Penny), and James Dombrowski, (wife Janice). He is also survived by his nephews, Thomas Dombrowski Jr. and James Dombrowski, niece, Gail Marie Dombrowski, and their spouses and children. Bob also considered many of his friends as family and had amassed many friends from around the world throughout his life.
There will be a memorial service from 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at Jenkins Park in Trenton.
Scot Borofsky is currently curating Bob’s artwork.