The son of Italian immigrants, Peter Grippe was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1912. As a youth, between 1923 and 1925, he studied at the Albright-Knox Art School and the Art Institute of Buffalo, where he later served as a student teacher during the 1930s. After moving to New York City, he taught sculpture, painting, and drawing under the auspices of the Federal Art Project. He became a member of the American Abstract Artists group, founded in 1936 at a time when there were few exhibitions and little acceptance of abstract art.

Grippe was a versatile artist, but is best known as a sculptor. He taught sculpture at Black Mountain College during the summer of 1948, considered by many a halcyon period. His teaching colleagues included Josef and Anni Albers, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham. Both Kenneth Snelson and Sewell Sillman were enrolled in Grippe’s classes. Watercolors that Grippe painted that summer reveal the allure of the college’s lush mountainous setting. He went on to teach drawing and design in the architecture department of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, followed by a year-long stint at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. From 1953 through 1977, he was professor of sculpture at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, the first artist to hold such a position.

In addition to sculpture, Grippe was an accomplished printmaker. Between 1951 and 1954, he served as the director of the New York branch of Atelier 17, the international graphic studio founded in London by Stanley Hayter as a collaborative and experimental approach to making prints. During Grippe’s tenure, the studio published 21 Etchings and Poems, an illuminated portfolio comprised of prints by Grippe, de Kooning, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, along with poems by Frank O’Hara, Dylan Thomas, and Thomas Merton. The limited edition volume, which required three years to print, was considered a landmark in print publishing and contemporary culture.

Grippe was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964, and it was during this time that he created his memorial series to the survivors of Hiroshima. Entitled Hibakusha—the Japanese term for “explosion-affected person”—it was made of bronze into which the artist incorporated pieces of rubble. Grippe described these fragments as “flying debris at the moment of explosion when objects and human beings meet in concussion. The objects flying in space become part of the sculptural form. Symbolically they state man being reduced to cast-off objects. . . . a discarded part of the debris.” A culminating work, the monument typifies Grippe’s interest in Cubist-derived broken surfaces and experimental use of materials. The artist designated the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania the major repository of his work, which is also represented in the collection of major institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and National Gallery of Art.