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'Universal Woman' returns to Art Center

Sculpture by Nathan Oliveira has new permanent home in Palo Alto

"Universal Woman," a sculpture with strong local ties, which was first exhibited in 2008 at the Palo Alto Art Center, made its "triumphant return" last weekend.

"We're thrilled to have her back," Elise DeMarzo, the city's public art manager, said of the bronze statue by Nathan Oliveira, which was placed in the Art Center's sculpture garden on May 30.

At 8 feet tall, "Universal Woman" is unique in size among Oliveira's work. Yet, while the statue's height is imposing, the figure it forms appears feather light. The tall, slender woman treads softly, with one foot directly in front of the other, as if walking a tight rope or poised to pirouette.

A long-time resident of Palo Alto and former Stanford art professor, Oliveira finished the piece in 2008, two years before his death in 2010 at the age of 81. The statue was shown at the Art Center's 2008 exhibit, Nathan Oliveira: The Painter's Bronzes, which focused on his sculpture.

Over the course of his career, the local artist developed a strong relationship with the Palo Alto Art Center. Oliveira's painting and sculpture work were displayed in many exhibitions at the Art Center, dating back to the 1970s, according to Nadya Chuprina, public art program assistant.

After the 2008 exhibit, the sculpture remained on loan with the Art Center until 2010, when it was returned to the Oliveira family for safe keeping while the Art Center underwent renovations. During that time, the statue was "very popular" among Art Center visitors, Chuprina said.

In the years that followed, Oliveira's son, Joe, proposed that the statue be given to the City of Palo Alto's Art in Public Places Collection (managed by the Public Art Program). The city's art commission accepted the donation in December 2013. The Art Center needed to wait until the weather was right to install the statue in its new permanent location, DeMarzo said.

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