I’m a self-taught stone carver.
I had been a studio potter for 15 years when, in late 1981, my car was struck right behind my driver seat by a guy running a red light through an intersection as I attempted to cross. My car did a 180 into a parked car, which slammed into my passenger side.
I felt OK when I finally got home from the police-hospital-check ordeal, but awoke the next day unable to move my legs.
I was told I’d never walk again. A single mom with 7 and 9 year old boys — right! Never walk again? Seriously? Who’d take care of them?!? ‘Never’ was no option.
I was referred to 3 different osteo docs by the hospital. All they could do was sigh heavily, wring their hands, and look self-important as they strutted across the exam room, each one hanging a long face as he pronounced me permanently infirm, incapable of healing from the soft tissue damage I had sustained in my neck and back.
I didn’t care what they said. As soon as it was obvious that each one was dead set against my possibly healing, I fired them. I knew I wouldn’t be able to tolerate a life with limp, frozen legs, unable to stand, walk or chase my kids. It was just not in my personal view of life.
I persisted in searching for real, practical help, and eventually found a network chiropractor — ironically, right down the street from me. I was wheeled into his office the first appointment, and danced out after the last.
It took a puny six weeks of twice-week appointments with him for me to go from major pain and can’t-walk to no pain and let’s-go-play.
As a celebration, a friend took me to visit a friend of his, who created magical vases and bowls made out of alabaster that the guy turned on a lathe. My friend thought maybe I’d like the idea of carving stone, and maybe I’d find and buy some to take home with me.
I was instantly enthralled. Some of the bowls and vases were paper thin, seeming to glow if you held them up to the light. They were fantastic.
But I knew it wasn’t something I’d ever do. There was this hummy questiony noise in my head, saying what-if-we-could-carve-some-figures?
I liked the idea. I also knew zero about stone, and doubted if I would really be able to make anything of worth.
The inner argument— wouldn’t it be cool to make figures and critters, vs no you can’t — back and forth — continued until I went outside to look through the pile of available stone.
I was gazing at all the beautiful rocks in the pile when my eye caught on one particular dark greeny-mottled hunk of soapstone.
Out of my mouth came, “That’s upside down!”
I could see who was in there, and she hated lying on he ground with her head pushed into the soil!
I ran to turn her over, and sure enough, I knew there was enough stone to contain the whole body. It was Ku’ulei!
The worry dialogue fell away — I was certain without a shadow of doubt that of course I’d be able to carve worthwhile pieces.
I went through the rest of the stone and chose a few more pieces, and went home floating with happiness.
I fumbled and stumbled around, using this tool and that, whatever I could scrounge, since my zero-sum finances didn’t allow me to buy new tools at the time.
I found that soapstone is soft enough I could use regular wood carving chisels, and even smaller lino-cutting chisels, to carve with. I actually carved my first little piece with my pocket knife.
Google was still someone’s wet dream, and there wasn’t anyone at the local college who either knew about or carved stone, so I found no one from whom to get instruction.
Somehow my body knew what to do, though.
I developed the habit of placing a stone on my carving table, and walking around and around it, turning it this way and that, until I could clearly ‘see’ who was inside of it. Michelangelo was right — all you do is remove what isn’t the sculpture, and there it is.
I carved alone for ten years, trying this tool and that, this method and that, experimenting with all kinds of stones and sizes.
Continued in STONE CARVER, part II
STONE CARVER, part I
(pron. KOO-oo-LAY — Ku’ulei is Hawaiian for Beloved)
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2023
Originals and prints: LyonArtandDesign.com
Recent designs here: instagram.com/angela.treat.lyon
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More about my carving adventures: Carving My Life: Volume I