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26 • SEPTEMBER 2017


Finding the Clouds

Stone carving workshop harnesses creative tradition ’m a cloud watcher,” David Sadler said. “I am constantly looking for designs and watching to see how they move.” Sadler uses a similar way of seeing before he begins to carve stone. It may seem incongruous — applying lessons from ever-changing, wispy clouds to the cold and unyielding medium of stone — but many opposing forces are involved in this art form. It requires both mind and body, positive and negative space, advanced power equipment and primitive hand tools, used both wet and dry, it can involve working from a model (indirect) or being completely intuitive (direct). It forces the artist to look at and then into a seemingly impenetrable piece of rock, and the result can be abstract or representational, smooth or coarse. It is art that draws heavily on science, specifically, geology. It compels artists to pass on lessons learned down through generations within the same family, but also throughout a community that is constantly reaching outward. Perhaps most poignant is an attempt to achieve immortality through a work that is virtually permanent made by someone whose lifespan is a mere blip in the grand scheme of things. Two people involved in the upcoming Southwest Stone Carving Association workshop in Hobbs have thrived in the spaces between these inconsistencies. Sadler is a second-generation memoralist. He was taught by his father and is now teaching his own son the art of creating monuments in their business Sadler and Son Monument Works in Hobbs, New Mexico. Several years ago, he began exploring the fine art side of carving stone.


David Sadler stands on one of his larger creations carved and assembled from rock. (Courtesy Photo)

Sadler joined the Southwest Stone Carving Association and brought its annual workshop to Hobbs in 2011. “People come from all over, and we typically have repeat students,” Sadler said. “I figure we’ve had 300 to 400 people come through the workshop over the years. We are like a big family.” The family analogy is apt. Rollie Grandbois founded the organization in 1995. His passing last year left a large void in the stone carving community but this year, his daughter, Shayna Grandbois, who lives in Santa Fe, is one of the instructors, and like Sadler, she, too, is intent on teaching future generations. “I work a full-time job and I have a 6-year old daughter and 8-year old step-daughter, so I don’t get the opportunity to carve as much as I like,” said Grandbois. “One of my goals is to set up a studio so I can teach my daughter to carve. She spent summers with my Dad and would carve little pieces of stone. She had a blast. I’m hoping she will follow in my footsteps.” Stone carving has a history of

being passed on. Marks carved into rock in the form of petroglyphs made in New Mexico during the period of 1300 to the late 1680s can be found in the Rio Grande Valley and, according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Venus figurines, Upper Paleolithic statuettes depicting women, date from 40,000 to 10,000 BCE. “If you go to Italy, you see sculptures that have stood for thousands of years,” Sadler said. “Stone is a very tough material. Marble will last forever, even when left outside.” Different types of stone are more resistant to weather than others; some stones are sensitive to acid rain, other stones should not be placed outside at all. Popular types of sculpting stone include limestone, alabaster, calcite, soapstone and marble. They vary in hardness and ease of carving. “My favorite is alabaster, just because it comes in so many color variations, is soft and pretty easy to carve,” Grandbois said. Alabaster can be opaque or translucent. Its wide range of color is due to impurities. Unlike

Putting the finishing touches on a carving, sculptor David Sadler hosts the 2017 Southwest Stone Carving Association Workshop at his Hobbs business, Sadler and Son Monument Works in Hobbs.

soapstone that often has hidden fractures, alabaster contains fewer veins and some of those veins are filled with clay. Still, a hit in the wrong place can destroy a piece. Stone carving is a subtractive process. Once something is taken off, it cannot be put back on. It is not surprising that, when working on a piece so patiently and painstakingly only to have it break or a piece chip off, the reaction can be devastating. But a mistake can still result in beauty. “You have to make sure the flaws are manageable that they don’t go all the way through and take corrective action if it does have a flaw,” Grandbois said. “You have to be extra careful. You can work around it or take necessary precautions.” “You can usually adapt and make it work,” Sadler added. “We teach measures to prevent mistakes—what to take off—and to try and not view something as precious. That way the end result can still be satisfying.” Grandbois’ father used a hydraulic diamond-tipped chainsaw to rough out a large piece of stone. Hand tools such as points

and chisels and power tools like grinders and air hammers then further shape the rock. Details are achieved by rasps and files. Perhaps the most time-consuming part of the process is sanding. “Sanding yields the fine polish look,” Grandbois said. “I start with 80 grit and work through all the grits to 800 or so. If you ask any sculptor, sanding is the hardest part of finishing up a sculpture. It is not much fun—it takes hours.” For the workshop, students will work with a cubic foot of limestone. “Limestone is fairly forgiving,” Sadler said. While it does not polish like alabaster, undercuts are possible, as is a fair amount of detailed carving. Limestone is particularly good at conveying texture. When working on large pieces, it is advantageous to begin with a separate, smaller model since it can reveal potential design problems before the carving takes place and reduce errors during the process by showing precise-


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