Michael Black - a man with a sack
Thursday 28 February 2019
News of the death of Michael Black, “Reuters’ sculptor”, reminds me of a bizarre encounter I had with him in Paris, in the 1970s.
It was after Michael had completed his stone bust of Baron Reuter, which had been unveiled in London’s Royal Exchange. Reuters management decided to have a number of bronze copies cast, to be displayed in the company’s larger offices around the world.
I was Reuters’ Manager for France at the time. There must have been a message from London telling us to expect the delivery of a bronze bust, but not how or when, as far as I knew. It was not in my diary.
One afternoon my secretary said there was a man downstairs, at the street entrance to our building, asking to see me. The concierge was reluctant to let him in. He described him as “a man with a sack, a big man, un peu sauvage… He says his name is Black.”
Michael Black was duly escorted to my office; a big man indeed, dressed all in black, with wild black hair, but very affable, not at all threatening. He was carrying a heavy hessian sack, which he heaved up onto my desk with a thud. “Voila,” he said, “Monsieur le Baron!”
He proceeded to open and roll down the sack to reveal the bronze bust of Paul Julius Reuter. He then upended the bust and produced from its hollow interior a bottle of malt whisky. “Time to celebrate!” he boomed, and so we did, with an impromptu office party.
Michael told us he had been held up on arrival by ferry at Calais that morning. The French Customs officers wanted to charge him import duty on the Baron’s bust, but could not agree on the rate for a work of art. “I told them it was a death mask of my mother-in-law. They thought that was funny enough to let me through - on zero duty!” ■