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Tim Prentice

b. 1930

Tim Prentice grew up in New York City and Connecticut. In the first part of his career, he followed his father into architecture after obtaining a master’s degree in that field from Yale University in 1960. In 1965 he formed an award-winning architecture firm, Prentice and Chan, with Lo-Yi Chan. Over the next decade, they worked on several notable projects.

Yet from an early age, Prentice was drawn to the life of an artist. A pivotal moment occurred during a school trip when he saw a mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder at the Addison Gallery in Andover, Massachusetts. He immediately began to “visualize the artist’s hands bending the wire to find the balance,” as Prentice writes in his book, Drawing on Air. In his college architecture classes, he would sometimes construct sculptures from found materials. And as he built his professional practice, he made kinetic sculptures on the side as time permitted. When he reached his early forties, sculpture won out, and he gradually abandoned his career as an architect to begin a new one as a sculptor.

Since 1975 his work has been exhibited regularly in solo and group shows. He has taught design at Columbia University and also run residencies and workshops at several other schools in the United States. He has won the Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award and the Transfield Holdings Kinetic Art Prize.

In addition to his smaller-scale sculptures, Prentice has spent the past thirty years executing large-scale sculptures for public and corporate institutions both in the United States and abroad. His commissioned pieces can be found in such places as the Knight Cancer Research Building at Oregon Health and Science University (Portland); the Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, CT); and the Phaeno Science Center (Wolfsburg, Germany). Two longtime assistants help him with this work: Dave Colbert (now Prentice’s corporate partner for large-scale commissioned works) and David Bean.

Prentice was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1996. In the years since, working with the disease has become second nature—to such a degree that he says he is “hardly aware” of his vision loss. He is able to do many things by feel, uses four levels of magnification, and even finds that in certain circumstances seeing less well is an advantage, since it allows him to better apprehend the entire context of his work.

Tim Prentice in his studio in West Cornwall, Connecticut, date unknown.
Photo by Jeffrey Milstein.
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