Pigtown sculptor Rodney Carroll has been making something huge at Kelco-Industrial Fabricators, a massive metal fabrication shop at Haven and Baltimore streets in Highlandtown.
Carroll says that the finished product, a patriotic display with a centerpiece entitled “The Birth of the American Flag,” which will be incorporated into the Washington Marriott Marquis Hotel in Washington, D.C., is the biggest project he has done to date.
“Birth of the American Flag” numbers:
Five: There are five major pieces or components to the work of art.
Carroll employs five people.
The project has taken five years.
56: The sculpture is 56 feet tall.
13: “The Birth of the American Flag” incorporates 13 stripes, which represent the 13 colonies coming together to form the new country, the United States of America.
80,000: Carroll says he isn’t sure how much the stainless steel and copper-nickel sculpture weighs, but he offered a very rough estimate: “It’s got to be 80,000 pounds or so.”
80 percent: Carroll estimates that while working on the project at Kelco-Industrial, he has spent 80 percent of his time doing physical work, and 20 percent of his time directing his own employees and Kelco-Industrial employees.
63: Carroll is 63 years old.
The average Baltimorean will recognize Carroll’s representation of William Donald Schaefer at Light and Conway streets in the Inner Harbor. It is a figurative—as opposed to abstract—work, meaning that Schaefer is presented in his recognizable, physical image. Carroll hopes that passers-by will also get a sense of “his life, his character, his achievements and his attitude” when viewing the statue.
Carroll’s sculpture “Firebird,” which represents the ballet of the same name by Igor Stravinsky, stands in the plaza in front of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The bold curves of bronze and stainless steel make for an abstract representation.
“That piece is very much to the architecture of the plaza, and the placement of the piece, with the armory behind it, and the roundness of the Meyerhoff,” Carroll said.
With regard to the Washington Marriott Marquis Hotel, set to open in the spring of 2014, Carroll said that a patriotic piece is perfect.
“This situation called for something that had to do with being American, and D.C. is the Capitol,” said Carroll. “It was a very appropriate place to do something symbolizing the country.”
The striped wings of metal forge a common direction in a manner that symbolizes scattered but similar interests in the country uniting to become one force.
The sculpture’s interaction with its environment, Carroll stresses, is as critical as its symbolism.
“It’s really important, of course, to consider the physical surroundings, the landscape architecture, the clients, and the usage of the building,” he said. “There are ways you open up the artwork to help instill or open up conversations and dialogue. These are all the things that are involved, and I think they are the responsibilities that go with doing public art.”
The Guide was unable to obtain a photograph of a model of the sculpture for this article.
“I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing, except hammering this thing down,” said Carroll last Friday.
He said that putting the massive sculpture together is a process “not unlike building a bridge.”
Then there’s transporting it.
“We’re bringing [the pieces to D.C.] at 3 or 4 in the morning, because a lot of this is wide load,” Carroll said. “We’ve got to get permits, sometimes street closures, police escorts, the whole nine yards.”
The huge, multi-faceted project has been a jump into the deep end of the pool, and Carroll enjoys it.
“You should have a lot of that all the time in your life,” he said. “Why shouldn’t you learn as you go along? That should be a mainstay of living, I would think.”
Carroll is a Baltimore mainstay; he chose to remain in the area after completing graduate school at the Rinehart School of Sculpture, part of the Maryland Institute College of Art.
“There were a lot of amenities when I came here,” he said. “The steel yard was still around; it was a blue-collar place. There were a lot of fabricators around, and real estate was cheap…I think Baltimore had a lot more to offer for what I was doing than any other place on the East Coast.”
Though based in Pigtown, Carroll is active in the Highlandtown arts scene. He hosts “Art To Dine For” dinners for the Creative Alliance, and holds crab feasts with his friend Scott Johnson. Carroll’s head assistant, Alex Zhikulin, has a studio on Gough St. in Highlandtown.
by Erik Zygmont