Have you ever seen the whale tails that shoot up from the ground along Kent’s Main Street? Or the elegant horses standing tall in Brookfield’s municipal center and along the Connecticut River in Hartford? Or the pod of dolphins hanging at the entrance of New Haven’s Nathan Hale School?
They are the work of sculptor Peter Busby, who creates larger-than-life structures in his home studio in Cornwall Bridge before they are unleashed into private collections and public spaces around the country.
Using mostly simple hand tools as well as some welding equipment, Busby molds steel rods into impossibly large animals, giving viewers an opportunity to appreciate them from every angle. He has a months-long process he stands by, from pencil-tracing the formations on drywall to manipulating materials to represent a specific shift of an animal’s head or body. Busby does, however, try to decondition himself from the mechanical pattern-making that can happen when working in a similar style. “It’s actually quite difficult to randomize the form,” he says. In other words, it is easy to get caught up in a routine of making everything symmetrical. “I try not to do that. I prefer the end result with the imperfections.”
Born the youngest of six brothers in Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, Busby has lived in and traveled to places such as Indonesia, China, Thailand, Israel, Crete, Denmark and the Caribbean.
In 1984, while living in an old farmhouse outside of Odense, Denmark, where Busby’s wife is from, he dragged some tree limbs over from the farmer next door who had just trimmed them. It took numerous rounds on the back of his bicycle, but he amassed enough to construct a life-size elephant. The elephant was displayed at the Odense Zoo, then later the city of Odense bought it, awarding it to an elementary school as part of an environmental awareness program.
His art clearly influenced by his worldly travels, Busby settled in rural northwestern Connecticut in 1991. “My artwork has evolved from the concept of space being defined by a single line, to structures defined by woven surfaces,” the 61-year-old says. “I work with steel rod in a way that echoes lines drawn by pencil, only my metal markings are free of paper and, thus, create three-dimensional drawings.”
Amid creating and constructing, artists must also market themselves to be seen. There’s always a proposal to present or competition to submit to. In Texas, Busby has two life-size elephants at the entrance of the Dallas Zoo, as well as a pair of huge longhorns at a corporate campus in North Dallas. “I am a finalist in and completing the proposals for two large projects out West, one in Colorado and another in Texas,” Busby says. “I would actually be working the human form on one of them, in a monumental format, and that intrigues me.”
Busby can work on a less monumental scale, believe it or not. He often creates smaller metal models, like sketches, before working in large format. In addition to his animal structures, his project Amphorae consists of pieces which are a touch smaller, and are inspired by the amphora vessels of the Neolithic period wherein ceramic containers were used to transport liquids, wine in particular. Busby’s bulbous forms have an industrial sensibility and use exposed raw wood and metal hardware.
Busby’s work has been shown in exhibitions, at universities and in public spaces all along the East and West coasts, from Connecticut to California, and Texas to Alaska, to across the Atlantic in Denmark. His art is tactile, spatial and environmental. It pays homage to beings around us, yet calls us to look again with intention in, around and through.