Frederick Franck is impossible to describe with a few words. He was a rather complex man. He has been variously described as a surgeon, a painter, an artist, a sculptor, a Renaissance man, a bridge builder, a trans-religious visionary, an author and a teacher, among others. His life was lived during the twentieth century, and he lived for nearly a century. To be specific, he was 97 years old when he passed away at his home and trans-religious sanctuary in Warwick, New York, where he had lived since the late 1960’s.
Franck was born in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 1909. He initially decided to go into medicine but ended up studying dentistry in Belgium. He did additional follow up study in dentistry at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, Scotland, from where he received his dentistry degree. He practiced dentistry in England for a while, but in 1939, immigrated to the United States. Since his British dental qualifications did not qualify him to practice dentistry in the U. S., he entered the Dental School at the University of Pittsburgh, and received his American dental degree there.
Following graduation from the University of Pittsburgh with his dentistry degree, Franck taught oral surgery and anesthesiology at Pittsburgh. In 1944 he was asked to serve as a consultant to the then Netherlands government in exile, to help plan medical and dental services for the post war era in the Dutch East Indies Colony. Since the colony eventually became Indonesia, it is not clear how much impact his services had. In 1945, he returned to the U. S., and since he had lived in the U. S. for over five years, he was entitled to become an American citizen, and did so in that same year.
Franck then practiced dentistry in New York City for two days per week. During the remaining time he wrote and painted in his studio on Bleecker Street. He became a successful painter and had regular one-man exhibitions in New York City, Paris and Amsterdam. Subsequently his paintings became part of a score of museums in the U. S. and abroad, including in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Fogg Museum, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, all in New York City.
In 1958, Franck got the itch to do something else, or probably to provide some significant service. He moved, with his family, to Lambarene, Gabon, to serve as an oral surgeon on the medical staff of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. While there, he founded an oral surgery and dental clinic for the hospital. He remained there until 1961.
During the mid sixties, at the time of the Second Vatican Council, Franck, although not a Roman Catholic himself was moved by Pope John XXIII’s opening speech at the first Vatican Council session, and attended all four Vatican Council sessions as an artist. He made drawings of the deliberations at all four Vatican Council sessions, and then, at the end, presented the drawings and sketches to Pope John XXIII. The pope then honored Franck with a medal of appreciation for the drawings. Upon Pope John XXIII’s death, Franck went to Rome to draw the Pope, as he lay on his bier.
In the late sixties, Franck and his wife Claske moved to Warwick, New York, where they had purchased a property, which included an old water mill and land for a small park. They converted the property in, what they termed, a trans-religious sanctuary, and named it Pacem in Terris, translated as Peace on Earth. The garden of the sanctuary, which contains sculptures by Franck, was dedicated to Pope John XXIII, Albert Schweitzer, and the Japanese Buddhist sage Daisetz T. Suzuki. The garden is used by Roman Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Jewish and Buddhist groups for services, spiritual drama, and musical performances. Franck, who adheres to no special religious orientation, wanted the sanctuary to be truly trans-religious, as opposed to ecumenical.
Franck was also an author, and was still writing when he was in his nineties. He apparently wrote over 30 books. His most successful book was entitled, “The Zen of Seeing: Seeing and Drawing as Meditation”. It was translated in several languages and sold well over 300,000 copies. His other books apparently have had more modest circulations. Some of the titles are, “Pacem in Terris: A Love Story”, “A Passion for Seeing: On Being An Image Maker”, “Seeing Venice: An Eye in Love”, “To Be Human Against All Odds”, “What Does It Mean To Be Human?”, ”A Zen Book of Hours”, and “Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing: Meditation in Action”.
Franck has had considerable recognition for his work in ecumenical bridge building among the various religious groups. But other institutions have more formally recognized his service to humanity. The University of Pittsburgh awarded him an Honorary Doctorate Degree in fine arts in 1963, probably for his humanitarian contributions by serving in the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Gabon. More recently, Saint Mary College, Newburgh, New York awarded him an Honorary Degree in 1994. In that same year, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, knighted Franck as an Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau.
Remembering Spiritual Masters Project: Frederick Franck,www.spiritualityandpractice.com/teachers/teachers.php?id=285&g=
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PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS, CURRENT AND HISTORIC
EIGHT PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE ROOSEVELTS, VANDERBILTS AND OTHERS, 2015
FIFTEEN PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE VAN BURENS, KOCH BROTHERS, VOORHEES AND OTHERS, 2015
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS IN U.S. GOVERNMENT LEADERSHIP POSITIONS, 2015
DUTCH PEGELS INVOLVED IN WARS
ALLIED EUROPE CAMPAIGN—1944/1945: TACTICAL MISTAKES, 2017
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE NETHERLANDS: MEMOIRS, 2017
FRENCH REVOLUTION, NAPOLEON AND RUSSIAN WAR OF 1812, 2015