Most all my life I've been a stone gatherer. Even on backpacking trips, where the weight of everything taken has to be carefully considered, I'm unable to resist bringing heavy stones back home.
While living in New York City, the nearby wilderness hiking trails of Harriman State Park were an important refuge and counterpart to the intensity of urban life. The very first date my wife and I had was a walk through Popolopin Gorge near Bear Mountain where a river plunges through boulders into the Hudson about thirty miles above Manhattan. On many of our subsequent visits, a favorite part of the day would be scurrying about the rocks and stacking them into sculptures. It was then, almost thirty years ago, that I began to think about making these compositions into permanent works, but lack of experience in crafting stone kept this urge a fantasy. But some passions prove immortal and now living on the bedrock of the South Toe River in western North Carolina has nurtured my desire to a kindling point that was sparked by discovering the work of New Zealand sculptor Chris Booth. The scale, beauty and soul of his stone sculpture, as well as his personal charm and lifelong dedication to a vision is both humbling and inspirational. In 2009, after attending the international artists' symposium called CollaboratioNZ in Whangarei, New Zealand, where stands one of his most ambitious works, "Waka and Wave", I had a serendipitous meeting with Chris which instilled a force within me to begin making what had for so long resided in my imagination.
My technique is simple. Stones are arranged in balance with minimal alteration to a point of resolve, then fixed permanently by invisibly drilling and anchoring with steel. This work is called Powhiri, pronounced poe' fur ee, meaning welcome in the Maori language.
I am drawn by this opportunity to give ancient, silent stones, wrought over millions of years, a special chance to ground viewers in their near immortal beauty and soulful presence.
I'm always on the lookout for stones with which to work and play. One of my favorite sites is on the North Carolina coast where a large pile of granite has been left to form a jetty. It doesn't take long for the sharp edges of these freshly mined boulders to be softened by the sandy winds and crashing tides. Here, while lifting with my arms and hugging a piece with my hands against the sensuous skin of these salty forms, I was unable to resist a taste with my tongue.
Some stones are so individually dramatic they don't invite further additions like "Cello", pictured here with my son and co-creating partner Ethan who is assuming a rapidly growing importance in all aspects of the our work together.
This project called "Counsel of Elders", came about early on as I was building momentum and knowledge as a stone sculptor. It not only drew comprehensively upon all of my abilities as a maker, but stretched into new territory as I was also asked to design the setting. It is a themed comission to represent balancing essentials of healthy human being. Looking through the arch are "Freedom" and "Guidance", to the far right "The Gift", on the left "Thought" and the arch symbolizes partnership and community. This image is of the group as I arranged them to resemble their relationship when installed. The subsequent images were taken just after finishing the commission.
The sculptures now rest in front of Asbury Place, a large new addition to the Arbor Acres retirement community campus in Winston-Salem, NC. Water emerges from beneath the foreground stones to form a pond that cascades over a dam on the back right.
Another view looking west from the front of the building which shows the entire oval site and a newly installed white sand path and beach.
I think of New Zealand as a spiritual home. This steeple shaped piece, "Guidance", finishes in a point where I set a small egg-like stone found on a New Zealand beach. I enjoy the surprise that instead of being sharp, this sand washed, ovoid stone has the softest, most sensual feel of any in the group.
Here, in "Mates", two figure scale pieces share the same base. On the right, the top hemisphere and the small rounded shape on the stone shelf are fabricated out of concrete.
An important site for "plein air", temporary sculpting and inspiration is Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. While doing this piece, it felt a bit like painting as the image I was creating resembled the character of the landscape.
I'm finding stone sculpture to be the most engaging and comprehensive medium I've used since beginning my career as an artist over forty years ago. While working, I feel all my experience in the studio as well as travels, family and relationships feeding into the completion of these works. At right is "Ascension".
In May, 2013, I was honored by the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC when they chose my sculpture "Partnership" for the top of the spa which is prominently seen from the Inn's back porch with the spectacular view of Asheville and the distant mountain range in the background. This is especially significant to me as the dramatic stone work at the Grove Park has been a profound inspiration since I first stayed there over 35 years ago. The arch represents two coming together and creating something that neither could have done alone. The Inn itself is a testament to this in the very special relationship between Edwin Grove and his son-in-law Fred Sealy, who together, were able to bring a nearly impossible idea to form.
A large new granite work called "Fruition", referring to the miracle of trees taking earth, water and light to fruit.
A forged steel branch holding two river rocks represents a leaf and a fruit. Difficult to see on the lower left of the base, is a carved bowl full of water below a cantilevered root like protrusion jutting out from the stone where the 'tree' quenches it's thirst.
"The Gift" incorporates the outstretched offering slab on the right which was intended to add gesture as well as relieve the symmetry of the oval. Probably the most challenging piece technically so far, it is assembled from eighty nine irregular stones which had to be cut and drilled to fit together with grace and continuity.
Recently, the Dargan Landscape Architecture firm hosted a show of new works at the opening of their space called Dovecote in Cashiers, NC. This fountain, " In the Beginning", was featured along with "The Gift" and four other new pieces.
"Toward Light and Shade" honors the resilience and multiple life sustaining properties of trees. The branch is forged steel and the shelf mushroom shapes are river stones. This image was taken a year after installation as mosses and weather have begun to make the stones look as if they grew there.
The search for compelling stones is an ongoing passion. This work, "Co-creators", veers off the usual course of featuring weathered boulders to use some large, fresh quarried granite columns. Also, on the shelf of the 10' tall left figure, this sculpture uniquely includes a finely carved river stone.
The summer of 2014 was an important time for the progress of my work in stone. One of the highlights was winning both first place and the people's choice award for "The Mentor" and "The Gift" at the annual Celebration of Sculpture competition in Lenoir, NC.
"Freedom" and "Thought" viewed together from below the falls on the back side of the pond.
Commissions always begin with conversations that lead to discovering essential facts about a client and site that will illuminate a conceptual vision. The client for this work shares a beautifully landscaped property with her mother, daughter and son in law and their children--four generations. As a result, the concept evolved with that as a reference. I built the piece by integtrating four large stones, symbolizing the four living generations, crossed by a lintel that supports a group of smaller stones representing the continuation of their family into the future. Not yet complete in this image, the sculpture eventually included a bed of several hundred river stones to honor their ancestors.
Partnership is a recurring theme that guides composition. In this commission titled "A Perfect Pair", the first intention was to honor the success of an enduring marriage. Other site specific factors always play a role as well. A unique challenge here was that the primary viewing spot of the finished sculpture stood15' above, off the back deck of the owners' home which was perched at the top of a steep downward slope into a lush cloud forest landscape. As a result, rather than designing commonly from a ground level orientation, the top of the work, normally unseen in a 7' tall sculpture, needed more development. This gave opportunity for the reflecting rain pool idea to emerge.
It doesn't take long working as an artist before one realizes that accidents, if embraced, can lead to fortunate changes revealing new insight and opportunity. Such was the case here in "Once Broken" where the cracking in two of this large rare granite river boulder inspired it's reassembly that I think proves the point.
I am fond of using the human scale because the works often have a gesture as well as a narrative association. When several finished pieces stand together, they tend to suggest figures in the landscape communicating with each other. This sculpture, titled "Evolution", includes a small living moss garden in the top bowl form.
This portal, "Time Machine" is an invitation to step outside of immediate limitations to connect with something more than the context of our individual self.
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Every winter here in the high mountains of North Carolina, the freezing air and icy ground make cutting, drilling and handling boulders nearly impossible for a number of weeks. Of course, there are always other supportive tasks to do but nothing compares to the direct physical connection with stone in giving meaning to the workday. Each year, when spring arrives, there is a fresh exuberance and released penned up energy flows into the sculpture as evidenced here in "Minstrel". It's often a playful, fearless time when new ideas may flourish without the stifling effects of routine and fatigue.
Scientists tell us that the earth was formed by accretion of solar nebula. This means that a small mass with a slight gravitational force began collecting celestial debris until reaching the huge scale of our planet with all its elemental components. This piece is titled "Returning" because it suggests a reversal of that process where the massive boulder is diminishing in size as it starts to move back into the most ubiquitous astronomical form of motion--the spiral.