Seventy Years of Portraits Through Her Eyes

Devonshire at PGA National resident, Muriel Kaplan, has sculpted portraits of U.S. Presidents, foreign leaders, and military heroes, including local WWII hero Captain David McCampbell

(Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) - She called him one day, out of the blue, after having seen him on television.  That’s how Palm Beach Gardens sculpture artist, Muriel “Mickey” Kaplan, first met World War II hero, Captain David McCampbell. 

Muriel Kaplan stands by her portrait sculpture of Captain David McCampbell at a dedication ceremony in October 2014 at Palm Beach International AirportKaplan was one of the invited guests and speakers at a dedication ceremony at Palm Beach International Airport held in October for Captain McCampbell, a Navy aviator and Medal of Honor recipient.  When McCampbell was 89 years of age, Kaplan completed a terracotta portrait sculpture of him.   Through her eyes, the sculpture took on the vision of McCampbell’s appearance as a young man complete with his Navy uniform, helmet, and medals.  This is the sculpture that can now be found on display in the airport terminal that was named for McCampbell in 1988. 

Kaplan has been a resident of Palm Beach for 30 years and made the move to Devonshire at PGA National about one-and-a-half years ago.  Her sprawling apartment-style home is dressed with artwork including some of her own and others she’s collected over the years.  Kaplan has completed hundreds of portrait sculptures and continues to do so today at the age of 90.  “I have been asked to do commissioned works by neighbors here at Devonshire,” said Kaplan.  In her apartment, Kaplan has set up a glass-enclosed art studio just off her bedroom.

Kaplan has her own portrait philosophies.  “Character interests me the most,” said Kaplan.  “I do not wish to make a photographic copy of the sitter, but to catch his essence and to elevate his features into the realm of art.  I see the rhythm of the ripples of the muscles, the planes of the forehead and the cheeks, and I wish to accentuate them so others can see and feel them, too.”  The process, she says, is “a three-way affair – the sitter, the artist, and the material must all come to terms with each other if the sculpture is to be a work of art.” 

In addition to her sculpture of Captain McCampbell, some of Kaplan’s other works include Morris Brown, a founder of Palm Beach County Club; Charles E. Smith, a Washington, D.C. area developer; Yitzhak Rabin, former Prime Minister of Israel; and past U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon.  Kaplan completed the sculpture of JFK with the help of his sister.  “We lived near each other,” said Kaplan.  “After he passed, I called her and she decided to help me with the likeness.” 

Most of Kaplan’s portrait sculptures, however, have been created from life.  Typically, the process involves three sittings of 1-1.5 hours in length.  She begins drawing the sitter first, without their presence.  “It’s better to catch an impression of them,” said Kaplan. 

 Muriel Kaplan’s sprawling living room in her Devonshire at PGA National apartment home.Kaplan grew up in Philadelphia and always found an interest in drawing.  She attended art schools as a young girl and went on to attend college at Cornell University.  There, she studied psychology and participated in art classes on the weekends.  “I still remember my first sculpture; it was of two women posing,” said Kaplan.  Years later, Kaplan also completed a commissioned work of the former president of Cornell University, Frank Rhodes.   After her four children were born, Kaplan continued to study fine arts and sculpture part-time for two years at Sarah Lawrence College.

About 30 years ago, Kaplan moved from New York to Palm Beach, where her parents lived.  She taught portrait art at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach for seven years.  Today, you can find the Muriel S. Kaplan Building, named in her honor, at the Center.

Kaplan has also received several awards for her work from the National Association of Women Artists and the Allied Artists of America, and has exhibited throughout Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio.  

So, who would she still like to add to her portfolio?  “I’d like to eventually craft a sculpture of President Obama,” said Kaplan. 

About Devonshire at PGA National:  Devonshire at PGA National, one of 18 Erickson Living retirement communities, sits on a 26-acre campus in Palm Beach Gardens.  Devonshire offers distinctive retirement living complete with spacious apartment homes, valet services and concierge support, premier dining venues, and convenient access to health services, all located just minutes from Southeast Florida’s best shopping, dining, and cultural activities. More information about Devonshire at PGA National can be found at: