‘Sculpture Tour’ brings some impressive visitors to RIC

The Rhode Island College campus has undergone some significant changes in recent years, including a new residence hall, extensive east campus renovations and the president’s illuminated walkway. But this September is bringing a different kind of addition, one that will transform the campus into an outdoor gallery for large sculptures.

It will be known as the “Sculpture Tour.”

A prime mover behind the effort is the college’s director of performing and fine arts Tom Cobb, whom most people know as the author of the novel “Crazy Heart.” The work was the basis for the film of the same name, which this year garnered Oscars for Jeff Bridges, Best Actor, and for T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham, Best Original Song.

Mike Hansel's 'Intestinal Fortitude.'
Notes on the Sculptors

Mike Hansel
Mike Hansel heads the art department at St. George’s School and teaches art at Salve Regina University, both in Newport. His large-scale steel sculptures have been exhibited in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Virginia. “Intestinal Fortitude” (now on display at RIC) won the Best of Show award at the 2005 Port Warwick Art and Sculpture Festival in Newport News, Virginia.

Artist’s Statement: “I try to combine the organic and the man-made. Ideally, I’d like to think that nature and industry aren’t really opposites, but more like complementary terms. My goal is to create finished compositions that leave the viewer with the comfort of familiarity and the uncertainty of not being able to truly identify or categorize any of the forms.”
An exhibition of Hansel’s work is scheduled at Bannister Gallery from Dec. 9-31.


Rob Lorenson
Rob Lorenson is a professor of sculpture at Bridgewater State College, in Bridgewater, Mass. His work has been seen in California, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Artist’s Statement: “The elements of my work exist in suspended animation. They are situated as though to freeze a moment in time in which they exist effortlessly in space. The work is constructed of sturdy, permanent materials that allow this to happen but yet is in contradiction to the impermanent sense of the composition. The forms have boldness and exactness that are inspired by the martial arts where grace and precision are practiced until they are effortless.”


Wendy Klemperer
Wendy Klemperer was most able to explore her passion for animals and nature during summers spent at her grandmother’s country house in New Hampshire. The daughter of two chemists, she grew up with dual interests in art and the biological sciences, and received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Harvard University before deciding to pursue art full time. Wendy Klemperer lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Nelson, N.H. She has exhibited her work throughout the United States.

Artist’s Statement: “Because I find it physically engaging to make something bigger than me, my sculptures of animals are often larger than life. This exaggerated scale reflects the huge space a wild beast holds in the collective imagination, basis for legend and myth.”


When asked about how he has been balancing his notoriety and his campus roles – he is also an English professor at RIC – he quipped, “I have a day job, too, and love it.”

The “Sculpture Tour” was three years in the making. Cobb recalls that Bill Martin, an art professor at the college, approached him with the idea in 2006 when Cobb had just taken on the performing and fine arts directorship.

Martin himself is a sculptor of large-scale pieces and had the knowledge and connections to make the project work.

Martin had several precedents in mind for the “Sculpture Tour.” For instance, one was a rotating exhibit at Louisiana State University, where Martin received his MFA, which was implemented by a former professor of his. Another was the outdoor sculpture program in New Hope, Pa.; he also recalled Convergence, which was an annual arts event in Providence that ran for a number years.

In developing his plan, Martin also consulted with the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass., whose Sculpture Park exhibits about 75 works at a given time, and he approached several artists he had been in contact with. He also got some feedback from his students.

Cobb concurred that student involvement was important, especially since the project is under the auspices of the Performing and Fine Arts Commission, which is subsidized by student funds.

The plan devised for the project called for six large-scale sculptures to be displayed throughout campus at one time. A proposal then went through the Performing and Fine Arts Commission, the campus beautification committee and the college’s executive officers, who all approved the proposal.

Tom Cobb, left, and Rob Lorenson, with Lorenson's 'Tall Trikaya.'
Assisting Cobb and Martin was an ad hoc committee consisting of art professor Doug Bosch, Bannister Gallery director James Montford and Nazarian Center operations manager Brian White.

The sculptures will be phased in over a two-year period, three each year, and rotated out, so that the first three will be replaced by new works in the third year and the second three in the fourth year. The cycle, it is hoped, will continue indefinitely.

Martin noted, “In the time they are here, students can see several rotations. That lends vitality to the campus. Things will be changing. Students can also see the work in context and get to meet the artists.”

Over the summer, the process of establishing the outdoor gallery began with the installation of Mike Hansel’s “Intestinal Fortitude” at the northeast corner of the campus mall.

“Mike brought the sculpture in on a flatbed truck,” Cobb noted, “and set it up with the help of Greg Gammell [RIC associate director of facilities and operations] and his crew.”

All installations will be following this pattern and have the artists’ participation.

The second piece, Rob Lorenson’s 11-foot-high “Tall Trikaya,” was installed around the beginning of September, on the southeast side of Craig-Lee. Its title references the Mahāyāna Buddhist concept of the three bodies, or modes of being, of the Buddha. Lorenson sculpture photo gallery

A third sculpture, “Leader of the Pack” by Wendy Klemperer, is scheduled to go up later this year near the Student Union Café.

Martin is hoping to select “a group of pieces that is diverse.” The first group on display is moving in that direction with two abstract sculptures and one representational (the Klemperer).

Cobb outlined several criteria for the sculptures to be displayed.

Wendy Klemperer's 'Leader of the Pack.'
“The works should be worthy of public display,” he indicated. “They should be public art, not likely to offend. There won’t be representational nudes or pieces that are politically controversial.

“The sculpture should be the kind that asks the viewer to get involved with it and deal with the it on its own grounds. Viewers can bring some imagination to the work or have it spark their imagination.

“One doesn’t have to like the work, though. By not liking the piece the viewer is still involved.”

Commenting on an early reaction to Hansel’s “Intestinal Fortitude,” Cobb said, “There were some Henry Barnard Students looking at it the other day, and they loved it.”

While the initial installations are all near the mall area, Cobb noted that the “Sculpture Tour” will “head east” next year, with perhaps one on the east campus and one near the Nazarian Center.

He hopes that eventually “everyone who comes on campus will experience one of them.”

Cobb pointed out that there are a number of large-scale sculptures on campus that belong to the college’s permanent art collection, so there is a kind of tradition.

Perhaps the oldest is a 35-foot triple-spired abstract aluminum sculpture by Martin Hirsh-Newman. Originally erected in 1967 in front of the Student Union, it has since been moved and now is awaiting restoration.

Two are located around the Art Center. On the south side stands Joseph Goto’s “No. 3,” 1960-66, and to the east is Jim Buonaccorsi’s “Angry Iron,” a 5 x 5 x11-foot sculpture resembling a cage. Buonaccorsi, a 1982 graduate of the college, donated the work to his alma mater.

The newest, “Metamorphosis,” can be found on the grounds of Nazarian Center and was created by Providence-based sculptor Jonathan Bonner. Dedicated on September 15, 2000, the work consists of five stones radiating out in a 200-foot arc and symbolizes the passage and development of the college student.

If you are strolling through campus to get some exercise, or walking to class or a meeting, allow some time to pause at one of the sculptures you will encounter – and give your imagination a little workout.