View Jerry Ehrlich's Structural Sculptures

The sculptor jokes that his family fully expects to find him meeting his end pinned underneath one of his sculptures – massive constructions of rebar transformed into beautiful, delicately spun shapes.

Sculptor Jerold Ehrlich jokes that his family fully expects to find him meeting his end pinned underneath one of his sculptures – massive constructions of rebar transformed into beautiful, delicately spun shapes. Each piece varies in weight, but it’s not unusual to find one that tips the scale into tonnage. “That’s how it’s going to happen,” he says, relating a close call that found him calling his son and sometimes studio-assistant to save him from the clutches of one such piece that had tipped over on him.

While others may choose the relative safety of the brush or the mouse, Ehrlich has always relished the rough-hewn and the hand-forged. A Rhode Island native, he recalls hanging around his father’s furniture stores (Kent Furniture and Pilgrim Colonial House), orchestrating breaking and entering operations as a ten-year-old so that he could tinker with the tools belonging to the refinisher that his father employed. “I was always really taken with people who could do things with their hands,” he says.

He dabbled in other arts, but it wasn’t long before he fully surrendered to sculpture in all its artisanal physicality. While on a lengthy excursion to Japan, he noticed the way that the Japanese used bamboo in everything from the tea ceremony to the scaffolding connected to high-rise buildings. He found it reminiscent of what he calls the “hidden infrastructure of steel and rebar” in stateside industrial construction, and began to explore how he could make something beautiful and visually organic from something that is typically viewed as ugly at best, invisible at worst.

So when he’s not behind the counter or the cases at ENO Fine Wines, the shop that he and wife Roberta own and run on Westminster Street in DownCity, he’s in his studio at home in Narragansett, heating and bending these gargantuan forms. Paradoxically, most of them balance on their own, adding to the tenuous poetry of tensile strength that the material has in our everyday lives, keeping our buildings and bridges upright. Ehrlich has shown across New England and in New York City, and he has permanent collections as far afield as London. You can view four of his pieces in the Livingston Gallery at the Bristol Art Museum at Linden Place through April 13. Bristol Art Museum, 10 Wardwell St., Bristol, 401-253-4400, bristolartmuseum.org. Gallery hours are from 1 to 4 p.m. Wed.–Sun. An artist talk for the group show, Fleeting Perspectives and Expanding Boundaries is slated for Sun., March 16 from 2-4 p.m.