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A New Icon: Sam

2014 December 4
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I was recently asked by pair of supportive collectors to revisit a series I began a few years ago. The latest in the Icon Series is based on, American Icon and Muppet, Sam the Eagle.

Sam occupies a unique place in the wacky crowd that is the Muppets. He stands in as the ironic voice of conservatism and reason against the backdrop of frenetic chaos. Some of my first memories of the Muppets involve Sam as a disgruntled participant  in the Tit Willow song, deadpanning the part of the Dicky Bird– I had it on vinyl for my Fisher Price turntable.

I feel that Sam was kind of the vehicle for the writers to speak slyly against censors and non-progressives in a way that was smart, funny, wry satire before The Daily Show  and, ultimately, The Colbert Report perfected it. In a double-headed manner Sam expounds the necessity of “the noble eagle, the good old values, the wisdom of the Founding Fathers” in a way that is seen by certain political groups– albeit with out the irony.  Throughout Sam’s tenure as a kind of disapproving-uncle-figure he avoided ever becoming a villain (more recently playing the role of a hero in the latest Muppet movie). So I chose to depict him in the style of Emperor Hadrian, one of the more benevolent (relatively speaking), if not initially bumbling, rulers of the Roman Empire.

Sam actually appeared for the first time in 1975 in the second Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, the series’ second pilot. Note: in the background, often over Sam’s right shoulder, there is a marble bust that is conspicuously attired with random bits of costuming each time it appears in the shot– hah!  Classic!

Time for some Professional Photography

2014 December 2
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by Sebastian

So, I decided that while I may be an artist, I am definitely no photographer. I’ve been flat out trying to get some pieces completed for looming delivery dates– it was time to bring in a pro. So I was really stoked to get Geoff Graham to come down to my studio to photo document the latest and a few older pieces too. See below. If you are in need of some really high quality photos, I strongly recommend!

Strange Bedfellows – Show Opening

2014 October 9
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by Sebastian

Strange Bedfellows Web Image

October 17 – November 23, 2014

Strange Bedfellows Curated by Blair Murphy


Friday, October 17, 2014, 7-9pm


Kaplan Gallery, 2nd floor,VisArts at Rockville 155 Gibbs Street, Rockville, MD 20850





A group exhibition about intimacy, Strange Bedfellows explores the way proximity to others–whether physical, emotional, or intellectual–shapes our individual identities, civic life, technological development, and physical spaces.


Ingrid Burrington (Brooklyn, NY), Bean Gilsdorf (San Francisco, CA), Katie Hargrave (Chattanooga, TN), Leslie Holt (Hyattsville, MD), Benjamin Kelley (Baltimore, MD), Jennifer Levonian (Philadelphia, PA), A. Moon (Silver Spring, MD), Sebastian Martorana (Baltimore, MD), Dustin Nelson (Astoria, NY), Jacob Rhodes (Brooklyn, NY), Stephanie Williams (Alexandria, VA), Jenny Walton (Washington, DC).


The word intimacy refers most often to human relationships, acting as a metric of the physical closeness, emotional bonds, or personal knowledge shared by two people. It can describe the accumulation of knowledge about complex topics or–as in the phrase intimately aware–a familiarity with difficult truths. While intimacy is often reciprocal, it’s not unusual to be bound tightly to objects, people, or knowledge we would prefer to avoid or forget.

Highlighting artists whose work touches on intimacy in complex and unexpected ways, Strange Bedfellows will explore the way proximity to others–whether physical, emotional or intellectual—shapes our individual identities, civic life, technological development, and physical spaces.



Blair Murphy is a curator, writer, and cultural worker based in New York City and a 2014-2015 Helena Rubenstein Curatorial Fellow of the Whitney Independent Study Program. Before moving to New York, she spent seven years in Washington, DC working as an administrative jack-of-all-trades for various arts organizations, including Washington Project for the Arts (WPA), DC Arts Center (DCAC), and Provisions Library. She was Program Director at WPA from 2011 to 2013 and a curator with Sparkplug, an artist collective sponsored by DCAC, from 2008 through 2011. As a member of the collective BFAMFAPhD she collaborates with other concerned cultural workers to examine the impact of debt and precarity on the lives of creative people. She holds a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art and an MA from Georgetown University.

Bases for Ray Lewis and Johnny U at M&T Bank Stadium

2014 September 4
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Applying gold leaf to the granite lettering

Just unveiled in front of the Raven’s M & T Bank Stadium— the base for the new Ray Lewis Statue and the Moved Johnny Unitas statues, by sculptor Fred Kail, were fabricated and installed by Hilgartner Natural Stone Company. I was in charge of the bling. Try not to be blinded by the 23 karat gilded lettering while you drive by the stadium.

Baby Steps

2014 August 1
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by Sebastian

Obviously, as a kind of extension of the Soft Step Series, I wanted to make a sort of mini-stoop that would be more appropriate for my (then) one year old son. He loves to stoop with us, but his feet dangle uncomfortably off the full size stair steps. To be fair, at almost two years old now, he has probably already outgrown the scale of this piece . . .

I thought is doing this when I saw how taken he with a child-size recliner at a house we stayed at on vacation. Why not make a child-size stoop? Ultimately, we got him his own child-size recliner, chocolate faux-leather. The treads and cheek walls of this piece are made from salvaged pieces of stone from our neighborhood, and the seams and polished finished are based on his little chair.

Salvaged Marble Stoops: Now Permanent Game Tables

2014 July 1
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by Sebastian
Sebastian Martorana

Link to the Baltimore Sun’s article about this piece by Meredith Cohn. Photo Credit: Al Drago

This public art piece is part of the redevelopment project in the Barclay neighborhood. I was contacted by the sculpture department at MICA who was asked by the developer, Telesis Corp, to assist with reincorporating the salvaged marble stoops from the neighborhood back into the project in an artistic way.  Primary in my thought process was allowing this new neighborhood to have a physical and psychological connection to its historic past. These stair treads are once again acting as a location for communal gathering for people of all ages and backgrounds. The placement of the stone was planned as to allow, for the tallest likely person, while still being usable for the shortest, keeping children in mind. The material and the fact that the checkered game surface is etched directly into the face of the stone means that they are permanent. (you can see pictures of the process below) 

Though the timeline did not allow for the most complex of sculptural concepts or structures here, sometimes simple is beautiful. I am very excited to have been able to incorporate this piece of Baltimore’s past  into a project for its future. I have larger and more intricate ideas for art to be included in the next phase of this development, which will include another larger adjacent park. However, I am very pleased that this piece has been positively received by the community so far.  I hope that it will continue to be the kind of art piece that serves the aesthetic, cultural and functional needs of the community, becoming a destination that the neighborhood can be proud of.

They are located on Worsley St, between, Barclay St and Greenmount Ave.

2014 American Craft Council Baltimore Show

2014 February 18
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by Sebastian

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.

Full event info on my Facebook Page for the Friday and Sunday talks.

More New Construction . . .

2014 January 8
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New Conastruction: Brick Step

Ever since I showed the first “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.

OK . . . we should have a talk . . .

2014 January 7
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                          .  .  .  seriously  .  .  .


you think this looks ridiculous, right?  yeah, me too.

For years, I have been looking for a good way to balance hearing protection AND entertainment. In a noisy industrial shop, how does one listen to tunes, AND not go deaf, AND stay comfortable?

So, this may be my first Public Sevice Announcement/ Review/ How-To post, possibly my only. To anyone that doesn’t spend many hours a day doing noisy work, this may seem like a minor thing and not of not much interest. However, I thought this would actually be helpful to other artists/ craftsmen/ shop-hounds/ whatever . . . You know: awesome people. So, if you are one of those kinds of people, please read on. I wouldn’t do all of this typing and hyperlinking for nothing– you may even thank me. If not–please scroll down and enjoy the art.

But seriously, I truly wish this kind of research and info had been online, before. It would have saved me a lot of money and headaches.

In the shop where I apprenticed, pretty much everybody wore earplugs, or rarely the air-traffic-controller-looking-ear-muffs from the 1980s . . . In my opinion all apprentices should wear earplugs. They protect the inner ear from damage and still allow you to hear the speech of others in direct contact with you, while not allowing for needless distractions (which young trainees do not need more of). They should be listening to their elders, not rocking out. However, since leaving my apprenticeship I have searched for ways to add a little sound to my day.

I tried using standard headphones (left) over top of earplugs. I could still hear music, probably mostly through my skull, but this didn’t do too well for spoken word, so radio and books were mostly out if I was working on anything loud. This also meant that I was running the phones at full blast so the noise bleed was pretty noticeable to others. No big deal as a MICA grad student, but I’m pretty sure that rest of the fellas in the professional stone shop that now houses my studio are not t0o into hearing my cousin’s hardcore punk band . . .   (all respect to my Cousin Charlie and his band)

After grad school, my loving wife got me a set of Bose head phones, though not the electronic noise-cancelling ones (those don’t actually “cancel” noise anyway–don’t believe the hype). But the Bose weren’t up to the challenge. After abusing Bose’s very generous Guarentee Policy to the tune of 5 new sets of headphones . . . they cut me off. Fair enough. I also tried an expensive set of Senheiser head phones, but these didn’t fit snug enough and were clearly not made for industrial use– maybe fine if I was “DJ Sebby-Sea-bass,” but I’m not . . .   So on a whim, while working on a very well paying project, I sprung for a set of 3M Tekk Protection Personal Safety Digital Work Tunes Hearing Protector with AM/FM Stereo. And for years, thats what I used.

3M Tekk Protection Personal Safety Digital Work Tunes

For awhile they were pretty good. However, despite being “work” headphones, the electronic components were not up to the task. I replaced three pairs of these over about 5 years at about $50 a pop. The light-weight, double-male, 3.5mm jack cord that came included would always fray and break quickly. That could be replaced with a better one for about $5. However, one of the nicer features, the built in AM/FM radio, would also eventually succumb to the dusty environment. I could still use whatever was plugged into the main jack, however, usually in short order the jack port and/or the speakers would go bad. At that point all of the space for the electronics and batteries is completely useless bulk. After the radio system and speakers crapped out on my 3rd set, I decided to stop replacing them and instead I inserted a set of ear buds. This required popping out the ear pads and drilling a small hole and slot so I could put ear buds in the place of the old speakers, which I also drilled out. This worked fine for a time. The iPhone ear  buds could just be popped out and replaced if they blew. This is still a expensive solution, but lacking a better option, that’s what I did.

Since I might spend between 8 and 14 hours a day in these things, I figured the cost was worth it. But the drawbacks were getting to me. As a stone carver, the position of my body, particularly during high intensity roughing out, is a asymmetrical to the block, with my shoulders raised and my left arm/chisel hand raised. The shear bulk of the Work Tunes meant that they would contact my neck and shoulders uncomfortably, which get sore anyway. When I would step back and stretch and roll my neck it was particularly annoying. I tried flipping the ear cups upside-down, so that the widest part was farther away from my shoulders, but still they were very awkward at 3-4 inches wide.

So when the vinyl ear pads started to crack, that was the final straw. I had to find another option. No matter what it cost–it would be a legitimate business expense for Atlantic Custom Carving. So I asked my brother in law who does a fair bit of target shooting what he used. He put me on to the We first looked at a lot of Electronic Ear Muffs, which seemed fine. The prices ranged from $25-$200, which was fine, but they were offering a lot more than I needed. Though I liked the fact that they were designed to be slim and tight fitting, particularly around the shoulders, they are designed to allow you to hear or even enhance normal lower range noises, while blocking out the loud stuff (something that would be of course great while hunting). Many came with built in cable jacks, but I know those to go bad. The fact that they had external microphones meant that there was just another place for dust to get in and frankly, while working, I don’t want to hear any external at all. So I started looking at the plain Headband Style Earmuffs. I really didn’t realized the dearth of options there were out there. Ultimately, I decided (from the look of it) that Bilsom Leightning line of ear muffs were the most durable, compact, comfortable and low profile. When I realized how inexpensive they were, compared to what I had been buying . . . I went a little crazy . . .

Bilsom Leightning L0F Folding Ear Muffs (NRR 23)

L0F (Folding Headband)

Bilsom Leightning L1 HeadBand Model Ear Muffs (NRR 25)

L1 (Headband)

The Bilsom Leightning line comes in two styles (over head and neck band) in a variety of Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR). What I realized was that the slimmest, most compact headphone they offered had a better NRR(23) than my current far bulkier head phones(22), and at a fraction of the price!

So I got the Bilsom Leightning L0F. (left) I also got the heavier duty L1 model(right), because they were only $9, and appeared and were still described as “slim,” with a NRR of 25. There are heavier duty versions, L2 (NRR27) and L3(NRR30), but they get pretty bulky.



Bilsom Leightning L0N NeckBand Model Ear Muffs (NRR 22)

Bilsom Leightning L0N (Neckband)

Then . . . I got to thinking that it would be nice to have a set of ear muffs that would work for those situations where I couldn’t easily wear the over-head-band ones. So I got the Bilsom Leightning L0N neck-band model(left), which would work in situations where I was wearing a sandblasting-hood, face-shield, welding mask, or hard had. And at only $9, why not?

no more soggy ears!

no more soggy ears!

Also, I discovered a little solution to a problem that I have been annoyed with for years: sweaty ears–gross. Cool II Ear Muff Pads! I am fortunate enough to have a very well heated studio, but there is no AC of course so during the summer– it’s HOT. The non-breathable vinyl of my other headphones would make my ears and head slippery and just disgusting feeling. I had tried a few things to absorb sweat, but had found nothing better than continuing to wear a light wight cap. These little numbers self-adhear right to the ear pads. Awesome!


So when my order showed up (all for about the same cost as one set of the Work Tunes) everything was actually better than expected. I was impressed with the quality of the construction. I haven’t seen how they perform over time, but there really isn’t much to break because I got models that did have all of the extras that go bad so fast. The sleakness and subtley of the L0F set was kind of shocking–after years of being in ear muffs that were bright yellow made my head look like Stewie’s from Family Guy. I was happy to see that the interior of the headband and the ear cup pads were soft and lined with two different kinds of a sort of faux-leather that was way more supple and comfortable than the hard vinyl of the Work Tunes. The quality of the head bands was actually pretty shocking. They were both very sturdy, but in addition to the leather-ish padding, they are covered in a black neopren-like material on top and trimmed out with thick black nylon–impressive. To be honest though the neoprene is nice, I could have done without the “neoprene” material–only because I anticipate it sucking up a lot of dust over time (stone carver-issue . . .)

Actually, only real issue I had was with the headband of the slimmer L0F. This model is made to fold in on itself so that is packs up really tight. The problem here is that this makes the head band itself longer than it needs to be and so if I have the ear cups adjusted all the way up and in they hit the wire bars that hold them from the sides and won’t pivot independently. The L1’s band is made from what seems to be two strong metal wires, rather that a thin, but wide band. Maybe I have a small head, I don’t know, so if someone had them let out more this probably would’t be a problem. But it was an easy fix. The headband from the L1 model (non-folding) is shorter so, since the plastic ear cup can pop in and out of the retention arms, I just popped them into the other headband and they were a perfect fit! This made the L0F headband kind of useless for me, but if you have a bigger/longer head it might not be an issue at all. And for such a low price, a minor issue. The noise damping is just as good as the old and while they don’t feel “not there,” they feel more like wearing a hat than safety equipment.


thin elastic strap fits under hardhat or other equipment and keeps ear cups from sliding down

The behind the neck L0N is great and has a very thin, but removable, over head strap to help keep in place, while the compression is provided by the metal bands. I find the over-head-band of the L0F to be tighter and more comfortable, so probably will only use these guys when other protective equipment warrants it, but I’m glad to have them around. And at only about $10– why not?


As far as giving these guys sound there are simple and really cheap ear buds–from for less than $3, but for just a few more bucks on Amazon you can find Apple-style ear buds with the voice mic and inline volume control. This way when I receive a phone call in the shop, assuming I’m plugged into my iPhone, I can just switch the cords to the front of my head and answer, so I hear the caller through my insulated ear muffs without all of the ambient shop-noise and the caller hears me through the inline mic that has a limited reception range. Easy and hands free. Also these kind of ear buds have the slim 3.5mm jack that fits most industrial iPhone cases without needing an adaptor. Use a Lifeproof case, which is fine, but the threaded jack port is a pain. Also you can order the ear buds in Black, as opposed to the Apple-Bright-White, which look funny coming out of black earmuffs and their rubberized finish picks up shop-schmaltz quickly and so they end up looking gross really fast.


right-side ear cup with ear cup pad removed and left-side ear bud taped in place

Turns out that inserting the earbuds themselves into the ear cups, is way easier than expected. The ear cup pads just snap right out. Position the earbuds inside the ear cups in a direction that points the speakers towards your ear canals. I found it helpful to swap the right and left buds for this purpose. Just secure with a little piece of electrical tape and put the ear cup pad back in. Boom! Done. If (when) they fray or blow a speaker I can just pop in a new set for a few bucks.


Bilsom Leightning L1

So, bottom line is: I’m super stoked to have new ear protection that is more comfortable, effective, and durable, while less expensive and ridiculous looking. While for me, I really wanted the tighter model, so swapping out the headband on the  L0 model made the difference,  for anyone that doesn’t mind a little bit of bulk, the L1 model (—>) is probably a good all around choice. I’ll probably use both at some point, especially if I have to do something with some really loud equipment. My suggestion to purchase, for someone that wants to cover low-profile, comfort and versatility, would be: get the slimmer L0N  (neckband model), because they are less expensive than the L0F headband version (I think becasue the L0″F”s are made to be foldable), and the still slim but heavier duty L1 head band model. This way you get the (in my opinion) nicer, tighter headband and you can swap the ear cups between the two different styles of bands depending on what you are doing and how loud it is. And of course a couple of sets of ear buds. And, boom! You’re set! All for less than about $50.



3M Tekk Work Tunes


Bilsom Leightning L0

I know that I am glad to have less of . . .


   <– this

and more of

this –>


!   !   !



Love/Hate: A Rocky Relationship with Local Stone

2013 December 19
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by Sebastian

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.