This week I will be speaking at the 2014 American Craft Council Baltimore Show as part of their Conversation Corner Series.
Many thanks to my son, Gian Carlo, for standing in as my younger-self.
“New Construction” piece (the cinder block), people have been telling me: “You should carve a brick! You should carve a brick!”
People are always telling me what I should carve and sometimes they are right. But in this case, honestly–that didn’t sound very interesting. Conceptually it made sense; bricks are another modern material being used to replace what once would have been marble. I am always saddened when I see a set of bricks slapped up where stone steps once existed stoops (particularly those new smooth and perfect bricks that lack any of the charm of the aged and irregular bricks that new-old-homeowners are always exposing). And, more often than not, the bricks aren’t even laid well! And, one or two steps on the outer edges are usually missing or have been re-set at one time or another.
Yet still, “a brick” was still not interesting enough to compel me to just carve one out of stone . . . Then I remembered something that one of my grad school professors , Ming Fay, said during a group crit: “If you are going to do something simple–do a lot of it.”
It then occurred to me that unlike a cinder block, a single brick is not very structurally or sculpturally dynamic, but like a cinder block they are meant to be used in concert. So I decided to just illustrate the thing that I was hoping to speak against: a step made of bricks that was once a step of marble.
This proved to be quite a challenge. On one hand this is one of the rawest sculptures that I’ve ever done; the broken edge and the un-finished, roughly tooled interior sides were left un-re-carved. On the other hand, because I was trying to represent a series of nearly perfect and identical objects assembled together imperfectly, the piece was extremely technically demanding. I spent a lot of time removing very small amounts of stone to make sure that right angles were actually right angles. Add to that the fact that this particular stone had a wide vein of some of the hardest minerals present in nature. You can see the sparks fly here– literally.
It would have actually been far easier to carve a series of bricks that were aligned perfectly rather than a series of bricks that are slightly out of kilter. This is definitely the kind of piece that owes credit to my trainers at Manassas Granite & Marble, Inc. who, during my apprenticeship, instilled the technical skills and discipline of the craft of carving that now allow me the ability to make this kind of sculptural work.
So while one carved brick would probably be pretty lame– I’m hoping that twenty-six carved bricks are not.
Sparks fly in the Corner Studio
Like many Baltimore Residents, I enjoy a some-time-love-hate relationship with the city I call home. Truly, it is far more love than hate. However, it is fair to say that this is a lovely and charming place—though a little rough around the edges. It has a bit of grit. Which is fine.
Baltimore’s marble is no exception. I have discussed the uniqueness, scarcity, historical and irreplaceable nature of the local Beaver Dam marble at length before. For a more historical look, you can read The History of the Marble Quarries in Baltimore County, Maryland, by William D. Purdam, published in 1940.
To my current point, one of the characteristics of this stone is the presence of certain mineral deposits. This can result in the beautiful “sparkly” look of the stone due to the abundance of pyrite. It can also result in large deposits of QUARTZ CRYSTALS . . . which mean trouble for guys like me.
To put it simply: quartz is HARD. Harder than even granite, whose varieties are composites of a number of dense, but desperate minerals. Quartz is a 7 on the Mohs scale, while marbles come in at about a 3-4, granite being 5-7. So trying to carve a smooth form though a block that contains both of these densities is challenging, especially if one is trying to make flat and regular surfaces (as I am in my current sculpture). The density and bond of the crystals is such that striking it which a chisel causes actual sparks. This can be seen in the video here where I am using a rounded point to just knock down the surface of the material before working it with faster, but less powerful, pneumatic air hammers by tooth and flat chisels to achieve the final face.
Sections of quartz like this generally laugh and any straight steel modeling tools and scoff at even my carbide tips. The stone, like this city which is represents, it is at the same time, pretty and tough. As with most good things: if properly appreciated it can bear beautiful fruit—but you’ve really got to work for it.
I am very excited to be co-teaching a class this through the Maryland Institute College of Art this summer IN ITALY! Art historian, Jenny Carson, and I developed this class to explore the historical and contemporary relationship between the “artist” and the “craftsman.”
- WHEN: June 21 – June 14, 2014
- WHERE: Rome, Florence, Carrara
- WHAT: Experience both historical and contemporary studio spaces, culminating in a hands-on marble carving workshop
- WHY: Because it will be awesome! (see full details below)
- COST: Visit the MICA website for pricing details
1300 West Mount Royal Avenue | Baltimore, MD 21217
Jenny Carson holds a PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and an MA in Art History from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She was the recipient of a Senior Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to conduct research on 19th-century sculptor William Henry Rinehart, and is currently organizing an exhibition of his work. Carson has lectured and published extensively on artist studio practices.
Sebastian Martorana is a sculptor and illustrator who received his BFA in illustration from Syracuse University and his MFA at MICA’s Rinehart School of Sculpture. His current studio is part of the stone shop at Hilgartner Natural Stone Company in Baltimore. Martorana’s sculptural work was recently selected to be featured in “40 Under 40: Craft Futures,” the 40th Anniversary exhibition of Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
This one, Lil’ Rocker, is based on the awesome little rocking chair in our son’s nursery. We have both spent a lot of hours in that chair feeding our little guy . . . and I noticed that, since we are both right handed, we inevitably sit on the right side of the chair, with him on the left, holding the bottle with our right hand. This has caused the cushion to take on this odd wave-like shape (though I am trying to make a point to remember to rotate it regularly).
The chair is basically dark grey, but since we knew better than to get a baby chair with out a pattern, we chose one with a kind of paisley pattern. Patterns hide stains. I felt that this pattern was really an essential part of Lil’ Rocker’s character, so trying to incorporate it subtly, as not to allow the pattern to overpower the form, presented a real challenge. But I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and it opens up some interesting possibilities for future works.
However, in that tourist’s defense: as one can clearly see in the picture, this statue has clearly suffered from Hyper PIETRAL Pinky Dislocation in the past. The remains of the metal pin I. The remaining stump shows that this finger was replaced at least one before.
Please– curators be vigilant and viewers be cautious. Don’t let more statues fall victim to this pervasive plight . . . but if they do . . . you have my number.
While attending an event at the Walters Art Museum last night to see the Sondheim Finalists show I also had a chance to take a look at their admirable collection of marble sculptures. The bust above of the French writer Fontenelle by Jean Baptiste Lemoyne II, while a fine example of Baroque sculpture, is also very interesting in its method of fabrication.
At first glance it appears to be a single block of stone– but, look closer (click images above)–it is not. Like most busts of its kind, it has a separate base unit that is tightly attached to the sculptural portion. However, notably, this particular bust also has a tertiary piece that makes up a portion of the hanging cloak on the subject,further obscuring the base. These seams can bee seen more clearly from the back of the piece, where less care was taken to hide them, as they are generally out of sight (it is always rewarding to look at the parts of a sculpture that were not intended to be seen, so I always peek around the back of sculptures . . . even though it makes museum attendants nervous).
While this application of fine joinery in stone might seem like a lot of extra work– consider: by working 3 separate smaller stones, instead of one block that would contain the entire sculpture, there is far less waste, saving literally tons of stone. Additionally, in a shop setting, these separate pieces can be executed concurrently, so that while the sculptural portions of a bust is being addressed by the master carver, the additional portion of the cloak can be worked on by, perhaps, an apprentice and the base section by still a lesser trained stone cutter. This would mitigate costs by both reducing time and relative pay scales. Even with art, efficiency is always key.