Bernard Petlock, 79, Prominent Local Artist

Posted: February 12, 1990

Sculptor Bernard Petlock, 79, an active figure in the Philadelphia-area art community, died Saturday at his Melrose Park home.

Although he began his career as a painter, Mr. Petlock turned primarily to sculpture in the 1950s, working in stone, aluminum, steel and wood. His work, described as "pure abstract art" by his friend and art critic Burton Wasserman, was heavily influenced by music. He gave many of his pieces musical titles.

Mr. Petlock had exhibited his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Woodmere Art Museum and the Fleisher Art Memorial. During the administration of Gov. Dick Thornburgh, he was named a "Pennsylvania Living Treasure" by the State Arts Council.

Born in Bialystok, Poland, Mr. Petlock was brought to the United States by his mother in 1920. He met his future wife, Ruth, at the Philadelphia Graphic Sketch Club, where both were students.

"I watched Ruth at her easel one day and thought, 'Ye gods! That skinny little kid can really draw,' " Mr. Petlock recalled in an interview in the 1950s. The couple became well-known in the area art community; Ruth Petlock, who died in 1974, specialized in collages and watercolors.

Last May, Inquirer art critic Victoria Donohoe reviewed an exhibit of Mr. Petlock's at the University City Science Center and wrote of "a natural cheerful exuberance here that inspires the observer with the uncomplicated high spirits of Petlock's vision."

Martin R. Petlock described his father's enthusiasm in an interview yesterday: "He was always busy, always drawing or painting or arguing with people, or going to exhibitions or concerts."

Mr. Petlock's commitment to art extended beyond his own work. He was involved in the formation of the Philadelphia chapter of Artists Equity and remained an active member. "He worked with other artists. He was always ready to - and did - go to bat to help other artists," Wasserman recalled.

Wasserman said Mr. Petlock was self-taught in many respects, although he studied at the Fleisher Art Memorial, the Barnes Foundation, the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Stella Elkins Tyler Foundation. He said Mr. Petlock told him of walking from home in Center City to classes at the Barnes Foundation, in Lower Merion, during his early years as an artist.

During World War II, Mr. Petlock served as a corporal in the infantry. He was wounded during the Battle of St. Lo on D-Day plus 6 and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Mr. Petlock's work received a number of honors, including First Prize in Sculpture at the Woodmere Art Museum and the Norristown Art Annual, and the Edith Emerson Prize.

In addition to his son, Mr. Petlock is survived by a sister, Sylvia Weitz, and three grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. today at Joseph Levine & Son, 7112 North Broad St., with burial at King David Memorial Park in Bensalem.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Ruth and Bernard Petlock Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Hussian School of Art Inc., 1010 Arch St., Philadelphia 19107.

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