By Meghan McCarthy
Some say a single moment can change your life. For Julio Galvez, DMD, this moment was when he met Dave Hoefner.
Years ago, the pair met in an elevator at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). While strangers, both were headed to sculpture class.
Dave, a retired engineer, had taken numerous sculpting classes at PAFA. Julio, on the other hand, was new to the academy. A practicing dentist at the time, Julio was considering a transition to a career in the arts.
“I asked him many questions: ‘What do you think about the school?’ ‘Do you think it’ll be a good fit for me?’” said Julio. “It was a one-time interaction, but it helped me decide to stay at PAFA.”
It was a simple encounter. After a few minutes, the pair went their separate ways.
Yet the moment had an impact.
Julio was a graduate from Penn’s School of Dental Medicine. After twenty-five years of practice, in a radical move to redirect his life and pursue his passions, Julio started art school.
Dave’s advice inspired Julio to dive into coursework and ultimately begin working seven days a week at the academy, leaving dentistry behind.
Sculpture wouldn’t reconnect the kindred spirits until years later.Dave began sculpture work after his first wife, MaryLou, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). She was only 52.
After her diagnosis, Dave retired from a career in engineering to care for her over 10 years. Whether it was carrying her through the house or spending quality time together, he was always by her side. But, like many caregivers facing burnout and stress, Dave needed to find respite and identity outside of his newfound caregiver role.
In his free time, Dave pursued stone carving at PAFA.
Whether it be carvings of statues, lovers, or animals, Dave explored his creative expression through various stone mediums.
MaryLou passed away in 2011. In a time of immense grief, sculpting class offered Dave a sense of belonging and comfort.
Class continued to support Dave, and a few months after MaryLou’s passing, a fellow student and friend who had met her husband on Match.com encouraged Dave to join the website.
Shortly after joining, he met Louise, who had joined the website due to her son’s own encouragement.
The duo came from opposite backgrounds. Although Dave was newly widowed, Louise had been divorced for many years.
And yet, they instantly clicked.
For their first date, Louise and Dave went to dinner in Bala Cynwyd. They bonded over mutual family and friends in Philadelphia, and by September 2013, they were married.
“When I learned about how he cared for MaryLou, I fell in love with him,” said Louise. “From our first date, we felt that MaryLou had wanted us to find one another.”Together, Dave and Louise worked to honor MaryLou’s legacy.
Dave had started a charity, CureDementia Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation. The couple has raised more than $85,000 for the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR) and has also participated in numerous brain studies at the Penn Memory Center (PMC).
As luck would have it, this involvement led to detection of Dave’s own brain diseases.
“We asked the researchers to make us aware of any findings,” said Louise. “Lo and behold, one day Dr. Dave Wolk called us.”
After being married for only a few years, the phone call changed the couple’s lives.
The PMC Co-Director noticed biomarkers in Dave’s brain scans, and predicted that Dave would likely develop symptoms of dementia within two years.
In a full circle moment, merely a few years after MaryLou’s passing, Dave was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia (LBD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) with Parkinsonism.
Yet, Dave continued sculpting at PAFA until he was ultimately unable to continue in 2020.
“He sculpted for as long as he could,” said Louise. “At that point, he had two big unfinished stones. Dave and I both agreed that we’d like to donate the stones and his tools to PAFA students.”
Each stone was highly valuable. Ultimately, Dave’s sculpting instructor, Steve Nocella, decided to divide one stone into three pieces so that many students could work on them.
Julio, who was working on his master’s degree in fine arts, was amongst the group.
The name Dave Hoefner resonated. In a flash, Julio remembered their brief elevator meeting and knew he wanted to work on one of the pieces.
Unlike his peers, Julio didn’t design an entirely new piece from the stone. Instead, his vision rested on completing Dave’s work.
“Everyone did something completely different,” said Julio. “When you carve, it’s labor intensive. There are emotions that go into it. I didn’t want to erase the hours of work Dave put into it.”
So, Julio inquired about Dave as a person and the life he led. After hearing stories about Dave through instructor and colleagues, Julio began carving.
“I wanted to participate in making some part of my work live in his work,” said Julio. “My goal was to transmit a sense of friendship, community, and a memory that will stand with time.”
That message served as Julio’s artistic guide. A tactile experience, he spent fifty hours chiseling away at Dave’s stone.
Without an ability to get chiseled stone back, the process requires a delicate touch. He used drills and sandpaper to further manipulate the material.
Through abstract forms, the sculpture has been carved to resemble two oval heads that merge. Julio named the piece Kindred Spirits.
“The sculpture shows the purity of the material,” said Julio. “They’re in communication with each another, demonstrating that there is no singular definition to friendship.”
While the stone’s shape embodies friendship, the project highlights how to operationalize the abstract concept of memories.
“Memories are very imperfect whereas a stone is solid,” said Julio. “The idea was to create a mark for a memory. This stone reflects how memories which may be lost, especially through dementia, can be represented and connect to the past.”
As Julio worked on the piece, Nocella sent Louise ‘work in progress’ images during three points of the process.
By the time Julio started the piece, Dave was in hospice care. Throughout Julio’s artistic process, Louise showed Dave updated images of Kindred Spirits.
Sitting by his side, Louise explained that Dave’s work lives on through the individuals who finished what he began.
Taking in the pictures, Dave cried as he realized the enormity and impact of his work.
“The timing was impeccable because just a month later he no longer had the capacity to respond so fully when I would discuss it with him,” said Louise. “Since then, less as well, such is the progression of the disease. But he did get to fully appreciate the meaning of it all while he still could, and for that I am eternally grateful.”
After Julio finished the piece, Kindred Spirits was displayed at PAFA’s annual student exhibition.
During the exhibition, the Woodmere Art Museum purchased works and awarded prizes to various pieces.
Captured by the sentiment and talent within the work, the museum awarded Kindred Spirits with the Woodmere First Purchase Prize award.
In August of 2023, the sculpture was permanently displayed at Woodmere amongst other newly acquired pieces from PAFA.
“It just touched him so deeply,” said Louise. “It’s beyond anything Dave could have ever imagined. It’s truly a work of kindred spirits who created art together.”
To learn more about Julio and his art, please click here.
If you are interested in donating to the CureDementia Fund, please see instructions below:
Please make check payable to: Philadelphia Foundation, and write CureDementia Fund on the memo line.
PO Box 826728
Philadelphia, Pa 19182-6728
To donate online: Please go to GIVENOW at www.philafound.org and type “Cure Dementia Fund” where it says “Select Cause & Gift.”