For a while, a driftwood sculpture
by Pippa Jack
Although it came about during a storm, this assemblage of driftwood isn't the random work of mother nature. "Gracie," a sculpture that now graces the lawn of the Narragansett Inn, was built by South County artist Russ Smith last weekend.
Made of driftwood found mainly at Grace's Cove, and built in a single day - Sunday, October 1 - Gracie came into being during a day of relentless rainfall.
"The pouring rain wasn't much fun. They say you have to suffer for your art," laughs Smith. "But it was fun."
Smith is a frequent island visitor who often stays at the Narragansett. He noticed this year that the inn's lawn would be a great spot for a sculpture. Inspired by the Greek and Italian artists who were part of the Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and '70s, the sculptor often uses found objects and items from everyday life in his art. The idea of using driftwood for a Block Island sculpture seemed natural.
He applied to the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts for funding for the project. The council gave him a $600 grant to help cover costs, telling him that members liked the idea of an art installation out on the island instead of in an urban center.
Smith took two days to complete the project. On Saturday, September 30, he took Champ and Lisa Starr's truck out to comb West Side beaches for driftwood. Then, he says, he studied the two loads of wood "until I got an idea about how to put it together."
The result evokes different things for different people. While Smith was building it, he says he was thinking "in terms of some sort of creature." Passersby told him it looks like a boat, a plane - Smith's daughter concurs on that one - even, specifically, a Concorde jet. "I like that it speaks to people in different ways," Smith says. "I guess it depends on your frame of mind when looking at it."
Gracie is built entirely of driftwood, save a few steel pins to help hold her together. She is meant to be a temporary installation, says Smith. How long she will remain is anyone's guess. "It depends on [Narragansett manager] Kathy Baptista, and the weather," he says. "The big question is how she'll hold up against the Block Island winter. But I guess that given she's made of driftwood, it's only natural that at some point she'll go back to being driftwood again."