Public Media Arts Hub

Rhode Island artist's massive work explores why time dominates our lives


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: It has been said that public art is a reflection of how we see the world, the artists' response to our time and place.

Tonight, Pamela Watts of Rhode Island PBS Weekly introduces us to an artist who has often combined those concepts literally.

The story is part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Pamela Watts: Time flies. For tens of thousands of drivers who travel every day on Route 95 in Providence, you can't miss the mischievous worker about to roll a clock right off the roof of the former Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company.

Foundry Clock Man is just one of the whimsical works of modern metal art created by contemporary sculptor Peter Diepenbrock.

Peter Diepenbrock, Sculptor: The sort of metaphor of it is, why is time so dominating in our lives? Time is totally dominating. You think about how we are obsessed with time of day, seasons, retirement. There's all these ways of chunk -- dividing life up into time chunks. It's a rejection of that.

Pamela Watts: Diepenbrock constructs most of his stainless steel pieces here in his home studio in Jamestown. His is a curiosity shop of fanciful, quirky objects, hand-crafted items, as well as many maquettes, artists' preliminary models.

Diepenbrock's recent piece of public art is a almost-10-foot-tall rabbit springing to life.

Peter Diepenbrock: The gesture is kind of a skating, a flying bunny, which is sort of inspiring hopefully to young people to live lightly in your own life.

Pamela Watts: It's called Ostara, translation, a celebration of new beginnings.

Peter Diepenbrock: Life is so serious right now. The world is in such crisis, it seems like everywhere you look, that we could use a little more humor and a little less dark subject matter.

Pamela Watts: Constructing these structures has allowed him to be the architect of his own career.

Peter Diepenbrock: At the core of it is, I love making stuff. And so its kind like, well, what could I make today?

Pamela Watts: A native Californian, Diepenbrock discovered that love of making stuff in his father's woodshop at age 5, and continued when he graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, RISD, in the mid-'80s.

He has been successfully self-employed ever since. He has a cottage industry of metal tabletop giftware, all with humorous personalities. But, in 2002, Diepenbrock's art took a serious turn.

Peter Diepenbrock: A friend stopped by and said: "Peter, do you know about the 9/11 Memorial competition?"

And I applied to that and won the competition. And that is what started the public art practice.

Pamela Watts: As you first enter the Rhode Island Statehouse, you pass Diepenbrock's prestigious commission. He had only five months to create it.

Peter Diepenbrock: The reference was 9/11, so there's nine layers of glass, and then the 11 is represented by what looks like the towers. But if you just see them graphically, 9/11 is embedded three-dimensionally. It was going to weigh 4,000 pounds, and they had to reinforce the structure of the Statehouse from below.

It was intense. I mean, I can't even tell you how intense it was.

Pamela Watts: Another of his heavy metal sculptures can be found on the University of Rhode Island campus. Torsion III twists like the curl of an ocean wave.

One of his recent works is drawing the public's eye in a new direction. This aerial mobile is the centerpiece of the lobby at Hasbro Children's Hospital.

Peter Diepenbrock: The idea was to kind of create this arrangement of floating discs of glass and color that would turn and project those colors all around the room in slow motion.

Pamela Watts: Like a rainbow.

Peter Diepenbrock: Yes, or a disco ball, but with -- a little less jazzy, and the idea being recognizing that it's a high-stress environment. If there's a metaphor there, it would be, what would healing look like?

Pamela Watts: These days, he's been trying his hand at Plexiglas kinetics, how a piece revolves, has motion, movement, and balance.

A work in progress?

Peter Diepenbrock: Yes, I don't think it's working.


Pamela Watts: Outside his studio are sculptures privately commissioned or just freeform pieces, each with a story that he hopes will bring a community together.

Peter Diepenbrock: What I do love about public art as a category is, it demands the whole spectrum.

So you have to be able to write about it, you have to be able to speak about it, you have to be able to represent it and model, you have to transition it, you have to translate it, engineer it, actually build it, deliver it as a complete piece that's going to last for a couple hundred years.

Pamela Watts: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Pamela Watts in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.