Providence, RI – Nearly fifty large scale public art projects by artist Brower Hatcher dot the landscape of North America. From a giant transparent grizzly bear in British Columbia to an entire park of illuminated structures in Iowa- Hatcher's pieces often look like holograms, glittering in the sky. But though he travels all over the country to install his pieces, Hatcher chooses to call the Ocean State his home. Rhode Island Public Radio's Megan Hall visited him in his Providence studio to see the local artist at work.
Brower Hatcher's art takes form here- in a studio at the steel yard in Providence's Valley neighborhood. The space has a 25 foot ceiling, overhead cranes, and an airstream trailer stacked on top of a shipping container. That's his office.
Hatcher attached a deck to the trailer so he could look out on the space below as workers grind, cut and weld the metal frames that form his sculptures.
"We have a crew typically of about four people that do the actual fabrication and I'm just this guy that comes in with one peculiar idea after another," he says.
The peculiar idea being fabricating on this day is an eight foot sculpture called Jazz Man. It's the image of a man holding a trumpet formed by a scaffold like metal frame. The piece will eventually stand on top of the Howard theatre in Washington, D.C.
Once the frame of Jazz Man is complete, Hatcher will powder coat it in his favorite color- blue.
"They call it Brower blue," he says. "Blue works particularly well because as a color it's quite transparent. Certainly against the sky, it almost absorbs light."
That allows the metal frame to almost disappear, as reflective objects attached to the frame and dangling inside make the whole piece sparkle.
Downstairs, Tim Ferland cuts metal rods to form the scaffolding of the Jazz Man. After he welds all of the sections into place, Ferland will use a hammer to make the metal curve so it better mimics the shape of a human body.
Ferland started working for Brower Hatcher six years ago . He's one of more than 10 people who work full time or as freelancers to make this public art happen. Hatcher says that's just one way his sculptures improve the economy.
"I kind of think in some ways I'm a 10 to 15 person stimulus package," he says.
Hatcher says communities often perk up after he installs one of his sculptures. Like the park with an illuminated fountain and performance pavilion in Council Bluffs Iowa.
"Suddenly you do this thing and it's a whole different game," he says. "Suddenly they're walking around, they're feeling good, they're proud, new companies start moving in, restaurants start opening and it's like, wow, time to rock n roll!"
But for all of Hatcher's interest in using art to revitalize communities, he hasn't installed a single piece of public art in Rhode Island.
Hatcher says it's likely he'll win a public art competition in Rhode Island at some point-he was a finalist for an installation in front of the Dunkin Donuts center. But he's more concerned about the overall approach to public art in Rhode Island. He says he wishes the state was more aggressive about supporting artists.
"The public art program is always in fear of the legislator, that the legislator is going to chew them up and spit them out," he says."That's not a healthy climate."
His comment made me wonder about Rhode Island's approach to public art, so I sat down with Liz Keithline of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, or RISCA. I asked her about Brower Hatcher's concerns.
"I can appreciate what Brower is saying, but actually, contrary to it, I feel like me have an amazing support in the legislator," she says. "As you may recall, with all due respect, Governor Carcieri felt he needed to look at eliminating the program. But they came roaring back to say, no, that's not a good idea."
Liz Keithline says Rhode Island is at the point it can appreciate the real economic value of local arts. And maybe one day Brower Hatcher will win a competition.
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