De Christopher creates stories carved in stone; Part of the Pulp Gallery’s “Wide Awake” exhibition with artist Nora Riggs


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When he left New York City in 1979, Turners Falls stone sculptor Tim de Christopher received some farewell advice from his former boss, Arturo DiModica, the Sicilian creator of Wall’s iconic Charging Bull. Street.

“Hey… Stai furbo“DiModica told of Christopher, along with one of those accompanying Sicilian body gestures: a lower eyelid protruding with one index finger, exposing the bottom of his eyeball.” Be careful. Pay attention. Watch your back, ”that meant, an expression the outgoing artist had never heard before.

Stai Furbo is one of the stone sculptures in “Wide Awake”, an exhibition featuring a dozen of Christopher’s stone works at the Pulp Gallery in Holyoke. The exhibition, which also includes paintings by Florentine artist Nora Riggs, opened on December 11 and will be on display until January 9 at the gallery, 80 Race St.

Stai Furbo, on a steel base that brings the waist of the guy in the tank top to about five feet, signals his silent warning with his right index finger raised, a cigar held discreetly in his left hand below. It is actually Stai Furbo II. An earlier version literally lost its mind being carried on Christopher’s forklift, as if to amplify DiModica’s warning. As Stai Furbo swung directly from the forks of the elevator, he also landed on an assistant’s foot, breaking three bones to him, Christopher laments. He has since had the forklift’s steering and brakes reconditioned.

Most of the works in the Holyoke exhibition are smaller table pieces. But they still weigh heavily with Christopher’s characteristic funny humor.

There is a pair of sculpted crew boats (or are they galleys?): “Come Away My Brothers” and “Farther Along”. Crews have their arms raised or holding their shoulders in front of them. There is also the “factory boat” and the “industrial boat” inspired by the city of mills. Floating stone factories that echo the great abandoned mills of Turners? No problem.

“I don’t really have an explanation. I don’t even know what it is, ”the artist admits of his stone boats, which were originally planned for a large“ cathedral project ”which turned into a project for a cathedral. unrealized “testamentary” inheritance.

The exhibition includes a recent work, “Two Guys Fighting,” based on one of the hundreds of napkin sketches preserved from the time when Christopher moved to New York City in 1977 to study design at Cooper Union. From their facial expressions, you can tell that they are really fighting with gusto.

De Christopher has exhibited at Oxbow Gallery and William Baczek Fine Arts in Northampton, De Cordova Museum in Concord, Chesterwood in Stockbridge, and the New England Spring Flower Show in Boston.

Still, Dean Brown, who opened the Pulp Gallery in 2019, found out about Christopher through the artist’s three-piece sculpture “Rock, Paper, Scissors” on A Avenue in Turners Falls, and “That’s Me. stopped in my tracks. It’s not often that you see stone carvings. It was magical and imbued with the essence of folk art.

He considers Christopher’s art by Christopher to be stylistically similar to that of William Edmonson, the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which “told stories related to spirituality.”

As for Christopher, Brown said, “There is an unfiltered beauty in her work. Something about it resonates (with the viewer) because it’s so accessible. He invites you to come in.

Want to embark on sculpture

De Christopher grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the son of a graphic, toys, products and interior designer who also had his own drawing show on television. His grandfather had worked as a stonemason in the quarries in Italy from the age of 9 before immigrating to this country as a teenager.

“He did the traditional stuff: Mary, Joseph and Jesus,” said of Christopher, who never got to see his grandfather work. “I grew up with all kinds of stories about my grandfather, the stonemason from Italy,” who had started a monument business with his brother in this country. “We would play hide and seek and run around the gravestones in his front yard. ”

During his sophomore year at Cooper Union, Christopher gave in to the urge to engage in sculpture, commuting to work next door artesian in Italy.

“I was a foreigner, an artist, but I worked with the traders. Some of their works were architecture, others were purely sculpture, ”he recalls.

He returned to this country to complete his university studies, then worked for five years making architectural models before starting to earn a degree in architecture at Columbia University. But the sculpture bug caught him again.

Work on the Columbia campus on St. John’s Cathedral, which had resumed in 1979 after a long hiatus, included a stone institute to train downtown youth in stone crafting.

“I’m there as a student with all the other architectural students,” Christopher remembers, “and there’s“ my people, ”who carve stone.”

A year and a half into his graduate studies, the ambivalent architect-in-training asked if he needed another sculptor for the summer. He is hired, abandoning his architectural studies. Instead, he worked for two years at Cathedral Stoneworks, which also took on private contracts.

Two gargoyles he carved there – a monkey and a devil – went into a new wing of the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue.

When two colleagues from his New York team invited him for a weekend to their chalet in Heath, de Christopher discovered Franklin County and moved the following year, in 1992, to Shutesbury and then to Northampton.

At first he accepted contracts with Cathedral Stoneworks, which closed in 1994, until his own sculptures and commissions took over. From a studio at the Greenfield Venture Center, he moved in 2001 to his first studio in Turners Falls, the former Williams Garage.

Shortly after moving, the New York Stone Yard said it was cleaning up and offered Christopher his limestone. He ordered six loads of semi-trailers – 120 tons of limestone blocks – to be hauled to Turners Falls. And he’s been using it ever since. When he moved to a smaller space on K Street in 2018, he gave it to a friend in Greenfield.

As heavy as this limestone is, there is an undeniable lightness in many of Christopher’s stone carvings, which over the years have included loaves of bread, fish, elephants, dogs, and everyday humans. – like those whose faces gaze out the windows of his 2017 “Rock, Paper, Scissors” paper factory. It’s the same unabashed playfulness the artist uses to convert stories into sculpture.

“I’m going to sculpt something and I’m going to say, ‘Oh look, there’s a little guy! And I sculpt the little guy. I am sometimes very spontaneous with material that is not that spontaneous. I’ll see a reflection of the light from an angle and think, ‘Oh, that looks like a nose in the shadows.’

De Christopher admits that his sculpted stories often suggest he is carving, using his pneumatic hammer or a host of other equipment.

“It’s rarely predetermined in total,” he said.

The limestone he cuts into, unlike napkin sketches where he captures a first glimpse of his drawing, “has its own demands and definitely changes as you do it.” You have to make decisions throughout the sculpture. This is the fragility of stone: it does not have the molecular strength of granite. It’s softer, a looser bond, and it’s delicate. If you hit it the wrong way, it will come loose.

The smaller works in this exhibition reflect Christopher’s adjustment as his multiple sclerosis, first diagnosed in 1987, has been declining over the past two years. He is now walking with a cane. But after a brief hiatus in recent years, the stonemason has resumed actively creating over the past year, as this exhibition draws near.

Art by Nora Riggs

Riggs, who moved to Florence seven years ago, is a Massachusetts native who worked as an artist in New York, then Los Angeles and Pasadena before returning to New York. She graduated in Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design and Indiana University.

His paintings and drawings have been exhibited in New York, California, Georgia and elsewhere.

The Pulse exhibition of her graphite, ink and pencil drawings – work she was able to do quickly on the dining room table when she couldn’t make it to her Brushworks Art studio and Industry in Florence – is his first exhibition in this field.

Brown described Riggs’ work as complementary to Christopher’s with “a naïve, unrefined quality,” which focuses on domestic scenes.

“There is an inner life that you see in his characters that is extraordinary,” he said. “You can’t help but wonder what’s going on. “

Riggs, 49, said that instead of painting and drawing from life, “It’s all made up of my head, my memory and my imagination.”

She loves the “frankness and emotional force” of primitive art and said, “I want my work to have that and direct accessibility. I’m trying to show some kind of inner power and energy in the mundane, a beatification of the mundane.

The stories told with a slight folk art quality of Christopher’s stone carvings and intense, naive domestic scenes will complement each other in this Pulp Gallery twinning that should keep visitors “wide awake.”

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