When people think of South Jersey, the work of metal sculptor Jose Chora, of Egg Harbor Township, may spring to mind as quickly as beaches, the ocean and casinos.
Each year, Chora, 57, has been adding new places that display his large metal sculptures in public.
A whimsical metal and mosaic collaboration with his wife, mosaic artist Judy Leone, that represents the circle of the family is at the wall of honor at the Jewish Family Service Center in Margate. Multiple stainless steel sculptures that depict the growth of a seed into a flower, titled “The Seed of Hope, and the Flower of Joy,” can be seen at AtlantiCare Health Park in Egg Harbor Township. A 9/11 remembrance monument, using a World Trade Center steel I-beam, is located in front of the Ocean City Fire Department at Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue in Ocean City.
Chora’s latest large-scale public work is a 10-by-20-foot sculpture of stainless steel cattails and corten metals reeds blowing in the wind. The artwork is affixed to the entrance of the the Reeds at Shelter Haven, a luxury boutique hotel in Stone Harbor.
“It’s an honor to have people trust in you so much that you get occurring or new commissions, so I definitely feel honored and blessed that I’m doing what I really love and want to do, and it’s being accepted so well,” said Chora, who has been sculpting full time for about 18 years. “Someone will commission me by knowing me, and they will want one of our pieces in there. Some other venues, such as AtlantiCare, will put out a call for artists where you compete.”
Ron Gorodesky, managing director for the Reeds, said the hotel wanted something iconic — an eye-catching attraction that the entire community could appreciate.
“Jose was amazing in the way he artfully articulated how he would create our vision, and then executed it in a way that’s awe-inspiring to everyone who sees it,” Gorodesky said.
One of Chora’s most important installations, he said, was in 2009 at AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute in Egg Harbor Township.
“My dad had just passed away from cancer, so it was very emotional. It gave me an opportunity to grieve while I was doing a sculpture dedicated to the center, but also to my dad because he’s responsible for what I became,” Chora said.
Chora was a pipe fitter in his native Portugal, just like his father. That job gave him the skills and knowledge to manipulate metal for his art.
With the I-beam from the World Trade Center, Chora came up with at least three different concepts that he displayed in a two-dimensional fashion before he started working with the metal.
“It’s such an abstract piece, the one in Ocean City, that you are going to read it your way, and you really don’t know what I tried to portray. Maybe there is a meeting of the minds somewhere. Maybe you read me correctly. Do you sense chaos? Do you sense hope? If those are the feelings — you don’t have to describe it exactly — if that invokes those feelings for you, then, we are on the same page,” said Chora of the sculpture, which was unveiled in September.
Chora receives credit as the sculptor, but the large-scale public pieces would not be accomplished without the team that works with him, his wife and assistant Michael DelFiandra, he said.
“As you work on it, you are not just making a piece. You are creating a piece of artwork that’s part of yourself, and it’s going to be an extension of yourself, especially with metal. It’s going to be out there for a long time, so you want that to be able to be read for a long time in the certain way that you wrote it or that you created it, so you always put a little more love into it. You have to,” Chora said.
Jose Chora and Judy Leone own Chora Leone Gallery in Somers Point, where their goods are sold, and Chora Leone Studio in Absecon, where they work.
Even though a piece may take weeks to create, Chora doesn’t take much time enjoying the finished creation, even though he has to cut, weld and grind the metal to make it.
“There are 15 to 20 minutes after you just completed the piece where you just shut down. You come out of it, and you just go, ‘Wow, we finished it. This just used to be on a piece of paper. Now, look at it,’” Chora said.
Chora’s next large-scale, public metal sculpture will be for AtlantiCare.
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