Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak, The Times. The Times, Hammond, IN 10/16/98

Artist's Work Set In Stone

Whiting native completes 1,600-pound limestone sculpture for new city commons..
Times Correspondent

WHITING - Sometimes artist Chris Diersen wishes he would have chosen another medium in which to work. Stone sculpting can get rather heavy and awkward, particularly with his latest project a 1,600-pound stone carving for the city. "Sometimes I wish I worked in Styrofoam," Diersen joked Thursday as he thought about the cranes needed to move his sculpture into place at Whiting's south entrance.
Employees from Amoco Refinery used a drott, a large piece of equipment with a crane arm, to place the sculpture on a pedestal in one of the city's new common areas, Welcome Commons, near Indianapolis Boulevard and Clark Street. It was his difficulty in finding studio space that led to Diersen's unusual arrangement with the city, to carve and donate two stone sculptures. "I had looked all over Chicago for studio space and found none, and Whiting was the same story," Diersen said. "I then began thinking that if I would propose donating a piece of artwork, maybe the city would have some extra space I could use."
Diersen's timing was perfect. The city had wanted to incorporate sculptures into two of the new common areas. Diersen showed samples of his work and was soon in business, carving outside the streets and sanitation department. "The city bought me some good pneumatic carving tools, and I got the opportunity to spend the summer carving," Diersen said. "It's great for me, I am interested in public art, and the city got a good deal."
Diersen estimated the tools cost about $700, while his sculpture would conservatively run almost $20,000. The bronze statue Whiting officials had been considering came with a $70,000 price tag.
The sculpture, Progress, is a 5-foot-tall abstract flame, carved from a 2,500-pound piece of stone whittled to about 1,600 pounds. The sculpture is made of Indiana Bedford limestone, the same material as the Washington Monument. "Whiting is unique with its flare stacks and plumes of flame all over the city," Diersen said. "I used the flame to bring to mind the element of Whiting's progress. The limestone was used because it's a nice color and holds up well in weather. This sculpture is going to be near the road, and the air in this area is pretty acidic. Plus, it's much less expensive than granite."
The city is in the process of taking nine small pieces of triangular property and turning them into common areas, complete with benches."Whiting is a walkable city" City Planner Dan Botich said. "By walking through these common areas, people can get a good flavor of what Whiting is all about, and the sculpture is just beautiful."
Diersen started sculpting in July, and estimates he has between 170 and 200 hours in on the project. He is now working on a smaller piece, an abstract bird, that will be placed in the area next to City Hall.
"My previous work was all. gallery pieces," Diersen said. "The largest piece I had ever done was 100 pounds. The city really went out on a limb for me and has been just great."

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