Robert T. Cole, a Washington artist and metal sculptor whose works were featured in such conspicuous locales as the Naylor Road Metro station and the Merriweather Post Pavilion, died Oct. 15 at his home in Washington. He was 74.
The cause was lung cancer, his wife, Susan Cole, said.
Mr. Cole created sculptures, home furnishings and wall reliefs. He received commissions from local institutions including The Washington Post, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and EDG Architects/Environmental Design Group in Bethesda.
He was best known for his life-size stainless steel and bronze sculptures, frequently designed for permanent display outdoors or featured in grand interior settings. Many of his figures were more than six feet tall and could be found in public places, including the U Street Corridor and the Logan Circle and Dupont Circle neighborhoods.
“Sculpture should be outdoors and monumental,” he once told On Tap Magazine, a Washington entertainment guide. “It should express the age.”
He used a direct-metal technique, a more physically demanding process than casting. The technique allowed him to directly hand-form the sculpture by cutting, hammering and welding pieces of bronze and stainless steel. He would then weld the pieces together, grinding them at the seams, to create a uniform shape.
A majority of his figures were modeled after the human face and figure. Many depicted movement and were left as open shells — to leave something for the viewer to fill in, his wife said.
“I try to create a core of realism in order to catch the viewer’s eye, while adding a bit of distortion to entice him further, and then a level of abstraction to meditate upon,” he told The Washington Post in 1997.
The style reflected in his sculptures distinguished him from other artists working in the medium.
“Sculptors who work in metal generally emphasize supple abstract forms or sheer industrial might,” critic Mark Jenkins wrote in The Post’s review of the artist’s 2012 exhibit, “Material Power — Pure Metal.” “Cole’s approach is more whimsical and usually figurative.”
In 2001, Mr. Cole created two mushroom-tree sculptures for the Naylor Road Metro stop and a 20-foot-high abstract sculpture for King Farm Park in Rockville. Two years later, he received an award at the Florence Biennale, an international art event hosted in Italy, for his 16-foot sculpture “Madre Della Pace” (“Mother of Peace”). The figure is now part of the sculpture garden at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.
Robert Thomas Cole was born June 11, 1939, in Cheyenne, Wyo. He graduated from Falls Church High School in 1957 and served in the Army in the early 1960s.
Early on, he built models for home furnishings in Philadelphia and invented stringed musical instruments in Santa Barbara, Calif. He returned to the Washington area in 1986.
In 1990, he renovated his carriage house in Dupont Circle, turning it into an art studio. He designed a portion of his home to accommodate a theater, where he received local playwrights, musicians and actors and hosted Capital Fringe plays.
His memberships included the Mid City Artists and the Washington Sculptors Group. He was one of the co-founders of the old D.C. Unite Sculpture Park and performed in the folk band Blue Judy.
His first marriage, to the former Susan Picard, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 38 years, Susan Warner Cole of Washington; a son from his first marriage, Todd Cole of St. Paul, Minn.; a brother; and a granddaughter.