Working with the wonders of stone

The Stone Carvers, a novel by award-winning Canadian author Jane Urquhart, powerfully evokes the wonders of stone and the carver’s art. Like the unforgettable characters in Urquhart’s bestseller, eight of Canada’s finest stone carvers congregated with their tools in Cape Breton, NS, from Aug. 28 to Sept. 10 for the first unloading the marbleannual Atlantic Stone Carving Symposium.

Right: Unloading the marble

An accomplished group of Canadian master stone carvers and emerging artists, the participants were selected based on their sculpture portfolio, experience working with marble, and ability to positively interact with the public. Among the invited artists were two graduate students in York’s MFA Program in Visual Arts: Laura Moore and Niall Donaghy.

“The symposium was amazing,” exclaimed Moore enthusiastically. “We carved nine hours a day for 14 consecutive days. It was an intensive experience that definitely enriched my artistic practice.”

The artists worked with huge marble blocks weighing from 140 kilograms to more than 900 kilograms, excavated from MacLeod Resources, a quarry on Cape Breton Island. Nova Scotia is renowned for its high-quality, richly-veined marble which is exported globally.

“Cape Breton’s rich natural resources, specifically marble, makes this location a logical choice for the symposium,” said Kathy Hannigan, executive director of Inverness County Centre for the Arts, the worksite for the event.

Left: Moore at work carving the marble

Set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the open-air studio gave the public an opportunity to see artists at work, while witnessing the transformation of rough stone into a masterpiece.

Creating a stone sculpture is no mean feat. Once the stone from the quarry is selected and split, it is moved to the artists’ workstations with a forklift. Then, like heavyweight fighters muscled up for the big fight, the artists rough out their pieces, using both power and hand-carving tools. Noise punctuates the air, with the artists loving every dusty moment as they tackle the stone brutes with verve.

“For me, the symposium was a great learning experience,” said Moore. “It’s always interesting to observe different carving processes, but to be surrounded by a group of artists working at different stages and with individual carving techniques – this was fascinating.”

Contemporary stone carving symposia originated in 1959 in Austria. Since then, they have become important cultural events in Europe and Asia. “This symposium is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada and one of the few in North America,” said Hannigan. “It’s our goal to root this long tradition of sculpture symposia on Canadian soil.”

Right: Donaghy carves some local stone

In the closing chapter of Urquhart’s story, the central characters meet up at Vimy Ridge, France, with their gear and their skills, to carve and remember. In similar fashion, the participating artists at the Atlantic Stone Carving Symposium came to Inverness County with a vision, carved out good memories, and left a piece of themselves behind. Their completed works were on display at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts for the month of September, and will now go on to exhibitions at the sponsors’ locations for a year.

Looking back, Donaghy said, “Inverness was a community so warm and welcoming. Although the dust has settled in that beautiful seaside village, I am still at a loss for words that would adequately account for the tremendous experience I had as a participant in the first Atlantic Stone Carving Symposium. It was an honor to work with artists of such high caliber, and the friendships that were formed during those two weeks are as strong, solid and permanent, as the material upon which we toiled.”

Click here for more information on the artists, their works and the symposium.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.