Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Marble Dust

Ceres, carrara marble, unfinished sculpture, 2000

While it's not definite, I've been asked to help out at a local sculpture school for a few weeks to keep an eye on the students during their independent study time.   I'll be there to make sure they keep on their goggles, and don't work in a way that might risk injury and are holding and using the tools properly, and for that I'm still abundantly qualified. I don't know that I've written about it on my blog, but before I started cutting woodblocks,  I was carving stone.
I'm married to a geologist, and her field work takes us frequently to Liguria and the area in and around Massa and Carrara, where the marble has been quarried for thousands of years and where the stones came for the facade of the Duomo and the statues of Donatello and Michelangelo.

Since we'd often be up near the quarries during the weekends or after hours, I'd putter around while my wife was scouting for geologic clues to the formation of the Appenines, I'd try to find a piece of cast off marble that was big enough to sculpt, but small enough to lift. (They quarry out blocks the size of a small VW van, to be cut down in the city stone sawmills). The pieces that chip off or are lying around are scrap and while for safety reasons (there are no fences protecting the sheer drops of the quarry), no one is supposed to tresspass, no one will bother you for picking up scrap marble.

So in 1998 or so I started first with a rasp, shaping the occasional piece of stone, and then, later I actually rented a room in Querceta, near Pietra Santa and Massa Carrara and started actually learning how to carve marble with a hammer and a chisel.  I worked mostly with hand tools, but after a while I also acquired a pneumatic hammer and grinder as some of the basic roughing out can be done much faster with power tools, although they are very noisy and even more dusty.

We were commuting often those years so I'd spend a few months in Italy carving stone, then go back and work as a physician back in the US.  I did shift work in the ER and they were always short-staffed, so I never had to worry about having a job coming back after time away.

Commuting however is hard with stone. An unfinished sculpture is still really heavy and the tools are all steel and iron.  I never wanted to deal with shipping a container of stone to the US from here, nor did I have contacts in the US to buy Vermont or Colorado marble or stone to carve when I was home.
Eventually it was the hassle of trying to carve stone on two continents that led me to woodblock prints.   A class in Santa Cruz, CA. in 2005 allowed me to start carving wood, instead of stone and I've been printing ever since.
But I miss the stone carving. It is probably one of the most fun things I've ever done. The tap, tap, tap of the hammer, the slow emerging from an ancient block of stone something that didn't exist before, the dust and the marble chips that would fall from my brow, hair or out of my nose the next day would always make me smile. (Marble is also pretty inert, and was not going to cause lung disease--which granite or other silica based rocks can do).
Even an ugly statue looks good in the garden.
So, I'm really glad that I came to mind when they were looking for someone with some carving experience with stone and stone tools to help out in the next few weeks.  I also think, since there are just a few students, that I'll also get a chance to work a bit on a new piece of stone after a few years of pause, and that has me dusting off my tools and looking for my safety glasses.  I can't wait.

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