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Granite Sculpture: An Art Colony in Vermont

Magazine article Focus

Granite Sculpture: An Art Colony in Vermont

Article excerpt

Until recently when someone mentioned granite sculpture, everyone thought of cemetery art. You know what I mean, sculptured angels, flowers and little cherubs sitting on tombstones. Today no one politely smiles and continues talking about something else when granite sculpture is mentioned; they are curious about this relatively new art medium.

People are aware of what has been happening to our cities' statues and the fact that they are being eaten away and corroded into dust at an alarming rate. If diamonds are forever then granite is for thousands of years, and that's a lot better than bronze, marble and steel are doing in our parks and city plazas. Granite is so hard that you can give it a sulfuric acid bath and this ultimate medium for outdoor art remains untouched. The timing seems appropriate for this stone to take its place in the sun.

Granite sculpture really didn't emerge until after the Second World War because this new technology was just then being developed. Prior to that time, carving in granite was rather slow and thus more costly, a medium generally ignored except for its use as tombstones.

On my first visit to a granite sculpture studio in Barre, Vermont, I expected to find the quiet atmosphere of a college art class, with people making sketches in charcoal or smoothing clay with their hands. I was greeted by the sound of a pneumatic hammer that sounded like a jet engine taking off. Diamond saws screeched as they cut into the hard stone. Motors from the dust collectors whined and vibrated as they sucked away the debris from all the drilling and cutting. Artists walked around with ear plugs to muffle the din and roar. You don't just scrape away excess granite the way you do marble. You pound and force your way into the stone with tenacity and heavy equipment.

The baaap of an air hammer echoed throughout the granite shed. Its carbon point spit stone chips and dust in all directions. Frank Gaylord, master sculptor and creator of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., turned his head and waved me over to where he was working. When I first saw "Odette-Odile," it was just another two ton block of granite, but now legs and a torso emerged from the stone.

Frank was stippling or smoothing the surface of the ballerinas' legs. One set of legs appeared light grey while the other was almost black. Granite has the unusual property of changing color the more it is finished or smoothed. The tutus were a third shade of grey because they had a rougher finish. The musculature of the legs differed thus adding further contrast to the black and white swans. Unlike marble, which absorbs light and glows, granite sparkles and reflects light the more it is finished. The base of the piece was quite smooth and almost reflected the figures which rose out of it.

I innocently asked if he was going to use a file to further polish the surfaces. Frank laughed and said granite was so hard that it would dull the blade first. To achieve a high gloss it was necessary to use diamond wheels. The industrial-strength equipment used in a granite studio added to my feeling of entering a different world.

Stepping inside the Barre Sculpture Studio was a bit like going into a Halloween spook house. The only light in this cavernous building was focused on the sculpture that was being worked on; otherwise the shed was mostly, in darkness. Models, finished statues or ones not presently being worked on, lurked in the shadows.

With a flick of a switch Jerry Williams, founder of the studio, lit up the area where they held their "Currents in Stone" show recently. Heads and fanciful shapes emerged from the inky gloom. The lights sparkled on "Kame," a black granite sphere that Jerry had finished for the show. The black slab on which it rested seemed like a pool of water that reflected the sphere at one end and led the eye to the rough-cut depression at the other end of the slain, Highly polished granite, due to its crystalline structure, reflects so much light that it is almost like glass. …

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