About this time of year, halfway between the holidays and the start of gardening season, my fingers start to itch. I want to make something–something tangible, three-dimensional, with texture…something that isn\’t words.
Over the years this itch has led me to crochet (so 70s), embroidery (so 80s), drawing and painting (so…eternal) and eventually sculpture–hard stuff (stone) and soft (clay, and even softer: dolls with hair, dresses, etc.).
How I loved carving stone! I did what is called \”direct carving,\” that is, I just whaled away with no drawings or preconceived notions, until something came out. It was so earthy, so primitive, so close to where we humans began. I used no power tools–just what carvers have used since time immemorial, mallet and chisel. I loved the \”ping!\” of chisel on stone. (You can see some of the pieces that have gone to other homes here)
In a very short time, however, the work began to take a toll on my body. Not only was all that pounding and smoothing hard on my shoulders and arms, but the hauling of my comparatively small (60 lbs–I never carved anything I couldn\’t lift) sculptures to shows became debilitating. So I wended my way back through clay work, back to drawing, back to writing.
But oh, I\’ve missed the carving.
The village where I live, West Pawlet, on the southwestern end of Vermont, sits on one of the richest slate deposits on the planet. The slate here is green, blue, gray, purple, red–and it is everywhere. Our porches, our walks, our stone walls are made of slate. The village itself is crammed into the nooks and crannies of slate quarries. You want a piece of slate? Just pull off the road and load it into the back of your Subaru.
Not only is slate lovely and plentiful–it is relatively soft and easy to work. But there is no free lunch. Slate is a kind of mineral fillo dough, made of many thin layers that can chip off at the slightest touch. As such, it cannot be carved in the round, but lends itself to bas relief.
Bas relief, where sculpture and drawing meet, is dear to my heart, in theory. I have no idea whether I can do it. I tried to get a local sculptor who does beautiful slate carving to give me a tutorial, but she has proved elusive. That\’s o.k. Maybe it\’s best if I find my own way.
This afternoon, there being a thaw, I waded to our shed and pulled a couple of small slate pieces out from under the garden tractor. They are a beautiful greeny-gray, and fairly smooth. The one I\’ve got my eye on is long and narrow, maybe 12\”x4\”–nowhere near the golden ratio. I like that. I like being bounded by the stone–it\’s kind of like writing a sonnet, where you have to fit your meaning into the corset of the form.
Tomorrow morning, after I put a couple of loads in the washer, I will wander into the basement and sharpen my smallest chisels. And I will attack my little piece of slate, and see what happens.