Marble offers carving camp for big kids
August 7, 2008
MARBLE, Colo. ” There is no single “type” of carver that comes to the Marble/marble symposium every summer.
Some are physicists, lawyers, dentists or others with a professional life they need to escape for a while, coupled with a yearning to be more creative than they can be in their day jobs.
Others are professional artists who are hired regularly on commissions that can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, or whose work in other media shows in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and Europe, but who all feel called by the stone.
Still others are hobbyists, dabblers in different artistic media who find themselves drawn to the arduous work of shaping abstract or realistic forms out of an oblong of stone that has lain in the earth for millions of years.
Instructor and organizer Madeline Wiener of Denver first conceived of the symposium after awakening from a dream one night in 1977, when she was still an instructor at the Art Students League of Denver.
But it was not until she came to the first Marble Fair in Redstone in the 1980s that she realized her dream could become a reality on the banks of the Crystal River in the isolated hamlet of Marble, where cell phones don’t work and where there is a ready source of material in the old Yule Marble quarry. Stone from the Yule quarry helped create the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, Va., the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Colorado State Capitol in Denver.
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Starting as an artistic outgrowth of the Art Students League, the Marble/marble symposium was created in 1989 with a single, week-long session that cost a handful of students less than $300 apiece to attend. Now there are three sessions per summer, the fee has grown to $900 due to rising costs for everything from the tools to the laying of water and compressed-air hoses around the three-acre site, and attendance has grown to around 40 students per session.
The symposium takes place on land sold to Wiener at a bargain price by the Stover family, long time supporters of her work. Accommodations range from area hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments, to tents arrayed along several dirt tracks that range up the hillside from the river to Gunnison County Road 3, Marble’s main thoroughfare.
Where she once had a staff of only three others, Wiener now works with a staff of 10, including a man who carves out “what we call the microwaves of marble” that are the standard carving blocks (you can get bigger or smaller if you want). Others on staff include instructor Kathleen Caricof of Evergreen, Colo., who has 19 years of Marble/marble behind her, and Brent Everett, a geology graduate of Northern Arizona University, who tells the students about the origins of Yule marble going back 1.5 billion years.
The number of participants at the symposium has grown over the years, and its reach now extends to other continents. There were students in the final session of the 2008 summer series from Japan, Switzerland, Venezuela and Russia (well, originally from Russia, anyway), and others have come from Australia, Israel and all over Europe.
“There was an international spirit here from the get-go,” said Wiener, 61, a Colorado resident for the past three decades but originally from New York City.
Working with marble and the symposium itself, for her, is something of a family affair. Wiener first started carving marble in 1971 when she was pregnant with her first son, Adam, although she did not know it at the time. Her other son, Josh, is being groomed to take over the symposium whenever she decides it is too much for her to handle.
Among the visiting artists, two are pointed out for their international accomplishments.
Edward Bekkerman, 49, is a Russian emigre, former ballet student, painter and author.
“I always wanted to discover what it’s like to make sculpture,” he explained, although he has worked in bronze in the past.
His sculpture, “A man with a hat,” is a squat, abstract representation of four different faces, each with eyes and a hat, as seen from four different directions, that he first started during the final 2007 summer session of Marble/marble.
“From that way, you see a drunk, with his hat over here,” he remarked, pointing to a spot outside his awning and holding his hands on one side of his head to depict the drunken chapeau.
Besides learning a new art form, he said, “It is a wonderful, wonderful place here. Really good people, the atmosphere is very creative. The sky, it is enough, in the night, so many stars.”
Across a dirt lane is a Mary Bourne of Scotland, a prolific painter, sculptor and ceramist who said her start as a sculptor “was kind of accidental in the beginning.” She was searching for an art college and decided on sculpture because she liked the fact that the classes were small, and the school more intimate than other kinds of art education. She met Wiener at a symposium in Scotland in the mid-1990s and started coming to Marble in 1996.
This session, she was finishing a five-piece work called “Mountain Flower,” each piece being a petal, depicting delicate high-altitude flowers she has seen on walks.
“The marble also is very delicate and pristine, and I wanted to draw a parallel between the two,” she explained.
Beneath another plastic awning, Chet Haring of Durango, here for his first time on a scholarship, is the only one in sight working with a hammer and chisel instead of power tools and water.
“I really like using a hammer and a chisel,” he said, although he recognized that Marble/marble in general is “a really power-tool intensive program.” Old-timers have suggested he spend some time carving the old-fashioned way, and Haring agrees that hand tools are a good way to “learn the stone, how the stone works.”
“I’ll have a little more respect for the power tools, as far as how fast you can do it,” he predicted.
Wiener said one critical aspect of the symposium is the final cleanup, which started Monday, Aug. 4, the day before the end of the session. She wanted to ensure that sculptors left little if any trace of their noisy, dusty and cluttered outdoor activities.
“When we leave these woods, there are chips [small chunks of marble scattered over the ground] and underground water and air lines,” she said. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t know we were here.”