Photo by Natalie Battaglia, The Times. The Times, Hammond, IN 12/25/98

New sculpture graces Whiting

BY JIM MASTERS Times Correspondent WHITING -- Chris Diersen believes the shape and form of a sculpture is as important as the type of material used.
Diersen, 26, of Whiting, said it was a challenge to convey a non-physical idea in a physical form and the material has got to fit the piece. In the case of his new sculpture, Swan "Grace," located in Binhammer Common next to Whiting City Hall, limestone quarried near Bedford in southern Indiana is the chosen medium. "The sculpture is an abstraction of a swan, not in its physical form, but representative of the idea of a swan," Diersen said. "Invariably, the idea of a swan is one of gracefulness."
A decorative type of stone, like marble or granite, would have been inappropriate for this S-shaped sculpture, he said. "Limestone is the perfect material to use if you want people to pay attention to the form," Diersen said. "It's also nice for outdoor sculptures because it weathers well. A crystalline type of stone is more prone to cracking in the freeze-and-frost weather of the region." Swan "Grace" is three feet tall and weighs around 500 pounds. It took about 200 hours over four to five weeks to complete.
Public art has been Diersen's emphasis since he started sculpting three years ago while a graduate assistant in geology at Ball State University. "I came to realize that rocks aren't as hard as people think they are," Diersen said. "Of all the jobs I've had and all the things I've studied, I don't feel good unless I'm creating art. It's kind of addictive." Diersen used a pneumatic chisel to carve the sculpture. But limestone is so easy to work with that he was able to use basic woodworking tools to smooth the contours.
Diersen didn't charge the city for the sculpture, nor did he accept payment for his first public piece, Progress, which was dedicated about two months ago in Welcome Common at Indianapolis Boulevard and Clark Street. He said young sculptors need to build a portfolio if they want to move on to bigger public projects.
"I'm someone who doesn't have a lot of money to give to the community or charity," Diersen said. "This way, I can use my skills to give something back." He also appreciated the fact that by donating his time, he wouldn't have to go through all the government red tape he said was associated with bidding on public art projects.
Diersen, who works as a train dispatcher for the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad, said it was a fruitless effort to find affordable studio space in Chicago, which led him to move to Whiting a year ago. Diersen approached the city after learning City Planner Dan Botich was designing a series of small, neighborhood parks on vacant, city-owned lots. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
"Chris came to us at a time when we were looking for public art at two of our common parks," Botich said. "The committee overseeing the construction of the two parks assumed it would take several years to fill these spaces with public art and that it would be very costly."
The city, using Empress Casino revenues derived from the Community Improvement Corp., bought the Bedford limestone and $650 worth of sculpting tools. Botich said the sculptures have an intangible worth for those who live in the area. "I think both pieces of art fit well into the community," Botich said. "Maybe they'll open up the minds of children and young adults to ponder the arts." Click here to return to Welcome page
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