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Brent Crothers, plumber turned prize-winning sculptor, dies

Brent Crothers, a prize-winning sculptor who started out working in his family’s plumbing business, died Feb. 25 of kidney failure related to kidney cancer at his home in Creswell in Harford County. He was 64.

“Brent Crothers created such amazing work that is both visually appealing and significantly meaningful,” said retired Baltimore Museum of Art director Doreen Bolger.

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Born in Havre de Grace and raised in Perryman, he was the son of Edward Crothers, who had a plumbing business bearing his name, and his wife, Joyce Gahagan. He was a 1973 graduate of Aberdeen High School.

After high school he worked with his father and brothers at Crothers Plumbing, which went by the tagline “Why call others? Call Crothers.” He had a journeyman’s license, did plumbing and drove heavy equipment for the company. He eventually moved into installing solar heating.

Family members said he was raised on a dead-end street, near woods, fields and the Bush River, a setting that informed his love of nature. They said these early experiences would be the basis for his sculptures honoring the environment.

At age 24 he purchased 19 acres on Nova Scotia Road in Creswell near the Stoney Forest. The spot became his sanctuary. He borrowed his father’s equipment, and he, family and friends built a half-mile road and a bridge over a stream.

Mr. Crothers later became an independent contractor with plumbing, electrical and building expertise.

“I purchased 20 acres of undeveloped forest,” he said in a biography. “It was there that I started trusting my intuition and allowed myself to play with the materials of the forest. There I owned the artist in me.”

He initially slept in a camper on his property and had an outdoor shower, one of his early functional sculptures. When December arrived, he sought indoor plumbing and signed up for a course in it at Harford Community College.

“They had a shower in Joppa Hall, and he signed up for a drawing class,” said his wife, Gina Pierleoni. “He found people who were more like him. His teachers told him he was producing the best work they had ever seen there.”

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He was given a scholarship at the Maryland Institute College of Art, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree and went on to get a master’s degree at the Reinhart School of Sculpture. He also taught for two semesters at MICA and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

While at MICA, he had a sculpture studio in the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Mount Royal Station.

He also met his future wife at a gathering at his home.

“A friend from the Institute wanted us to meet, we did, and we connected on a lot of different levels," she said.

Mr. Crothers enlarged his home studio. He raised its ceilings to accommodate his sculpture. He also bought a new wood stove.

“He was a really resourceful guy. He saved everything,” his wife said. "Everything from his former life became the basis for his sculpture. Things destined to become landfill items became the materials for his sculptures. He believed that sculpture is very much about showing relationships between unlikely materials in a new way.”

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Mr. Crothers salvaged fallen trees. He collected cedar wood trunks and limbs and bundled them into bundles. These cedar bundles became the basis of sculptures that spoke to his sense of the environment.

“This he achieved by using repurposed materials, often those that would otherwise clutter or even threaten the natural environments they are left in — from cut-down tree trunks and branches and recycled stair treads to rubber hoses and abandoned toilet seats,” said Ms. Bolger, the retired BMA director.

“Many of these [sculptures] were displayed outdoors, in the potentially impacted settings. His moving exhibition at The Baltimore Museum of Art in 2014, when he won the distinguished Baker Artist Award, remains a high point in my time at the museum and a reminder of how a truly gifted artist can keep us focused on the important issues of our time and place. He and his remarkable work will be sorely missed.”

Mr. Crothers wrote, "Two weeks into graduate school, September 11th happened, which textured my two years there. It brought home the fragility of life and made me re-evaluate what it means to be an American. Before that experience, I would have never considered using the peace sign as part of my art work.

“After September 11th, I merged my thoughts about the environment and the need for peace in the world. It was then that I started the ongoing series, ‘Reinventing the Wheel,’ ” he wrote.

In 2014 he was awarded a $25,000 Baker Artist Award.

“I’m really honored because this comes after 30 years of struggling,” Mr. Crothers said in a Sun article. "My community is saying to me, ‘Yay, you’re doing something worth supporting.’ "

Mr. Crothers’ works were exhibited widely, including at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Art Museum of The Americas in Washington, D.C., and traveled to China.

A memorial service is pending.

In addition to his wife of 24 years, a Harford Community College adjunct professor and artist; survivors include a son, Trane Crothers of Creswell; three sisters, Paula Thetford of Lewes, Delaware, and Lynn Crothers and Deleen Vincenti, both of Aberdeen; and three brothers, Bruce Crothers and Brooke Crothers, both of Aberdeen, and Bradley Crothers of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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