I was privileged to be chosen to take part in the fifth and last Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium this year, in Prospect Harbor, Maine, along with six other sculptors from around the world. Here’s my second report:
August 28, 2014
The last couple weeks have been full ones. There are seven sculptors taking part in the Schoodic Symposium, four Americans, a Georgian, a Swiss, and a Korean, who is here with his wife, also a sculptor. That makes eight, plus two assistants, all staying at an old bed and breakfast in Winter Harbor, about five miles from Prospect Harbor, where the Symposium work site is. We head out between 7 and 8 in the morning, take an hour for lunch (graciously provided on a rotating basis by the seven different communities for whom we are making sculptures), and leave the site at 6. There’s a run on the hot water as everybody gets cleaned up, then dinner at 7, and some talk, and then most everybody heads for bed around 9 or 9:30. I keep intending to compose this second report, but I can’t stay awake! There’s lots of physical work each day. I seem to be adjusting – I’m tired, but not as wiped as I was feeling the first week!
Since I wrote back on the 11th and 12th, I’ve gotten my three stones roughed out. We stood up the tall stone using the crane on site, and I drew the house forms on it, then we laid it back down and I cut them out, starting with an angle grinder with a 7”d. flush mounted blade, slicing into the granite every 1 – 1 ½” or so, and then knocking off the strips with a hammer and a 2” carbide chisel (I call this fret cutting; the Maine sculptors call it scoring). Most of the grinders and saws here are set up with water feeds – cuts down dust and saves wear on the blades, but the grinders don’t last as long. Where there was a lot of granite to remove, I made long saw cuts down the stone, and used steel wedges (forged from pieces of leaf springs) to split off long chunks. When I got close to the broad flat surfaces I used a Husqvarna electric saw with a water feed. The 14” d. blade is flush mounted to allow one to cut broad surfaces. It’s got a lot of gyrational force and it’s a little tricky to start the cut, but it works pretty well after that. The big saw is easiest to use horizontally, so I did the faces on the top of the stone, and then we used the crane to roll it to the next side in order to cut those faces.
We positioned the two horizontal stones roughly the way they will be relative to each other when installed. I drew the meander forms on the tops, and then on the sides, working with graphite so I could dust it off and make changes, then going over the final lines with orange china markers (they don’t wash off). I used a small grinder to trace them out, then the 7” grinder to cut slices into the stone once again to remove material. Back out West, everybody refers to that as fret cutting – they didn’t seem to recognize that name for it here. Fret cutting is slow business, and takes multiple passes to get down close to the final surface. You cut, you hammer, you cut you hammer. And you correct and adjust as you work. I got some assistance with fret cutting and later bush hammering on the lower piece, but most of the big piece I’ve done myself.
After getting close to the final surfaces with fret cutting, I switched to an Ingersoll-Rand air hammer with a carbide 9-point bush hammer chisel attachment. Basically it pulverizes the surface and smoothes it out, giving it a soft and flowing appearance. All this has taken the last two and a half weeks. I just finished three full days of bush hammering today! Now it’s on to grinding and polishing. The house forms will have a low polish, and the long meandering paths on the top of the two horizontal stones will have a higher one. I want them to catch the light and also feel good to the touch, so people will incline to run their hands along them. There are other details I may add – perhaps a simple chevron motif on part of one edge of the tall stone. The pattern is from two small Abenaki porcupine quill boxes I saw in the Wilson Museum in Castine.
We have just under two weeks to finish the pieces. They’ll all be set up on site on September 10th for a final event, and then the plan is to install all of them over the next four days, in seven different communities – a prodigious undertaking! The foundations for my piece have already been cast – big blocks of concrete that are scheduled to be put in place on the site in Castine on September 4th. I’ll have to get there beforehand with Jesse to locate them for the excavators. A few weeks ago, I drew up a schematic site design, with an oval path to bring people down to the piece and to define a broad lawn before it – a good place for outdoor gatherings. That seems to have been well received
The days on site are full – many people visit, both tourists and locals, and there have been several events for donors, several dinners hosted by local gallery owners and interested folks, a gallery show opening for sculptor Mark Herrington, who’s a senior advisor and assistant to Jesse Salisbury at the Symposium, and shared visits and a lunch with The Stone Foundation, an organization of mostly stone masons and some sculptors that had its own symposium just down the road at the Schoodic Education Center last week. Jesse did a demonstration of splitting using short Japanese wedges one day for them and us. Oh, and also visitors from Sculpture Saint John – a sister symposium happening across the border in New Brunswick, that was inspired by and is patterned after the Schoodic Symposium. They have eight sculptors at work right now. If there’s time, a few of us may try to go visit them, as well.
Back at the B&B in Winter Harbor, we get big inventive meals six nights out of seven from two different cooks. Jesse’s dad Jim has lead several evening fishing expeditions for mackerel and squid, which has resulted in a lot more cooking and grilling and eating. Oh, and also, each of the four American artists made 15-minute presentations about his work on Wednesday last week (the 20th) and the Internationals did theirs last night, at Hammond Hall, just down the street. Valerian Jikia, our ebullient Georgian sculptor, has taken a strong interest in available vodkas in the U.S., and in making sure that we drink together as artists. He has us all tossing back a shot (or 2, or 4…) of Absolut or Smirnoff, straight from the freezer, and repeating his Georgian toast to each other, which sounds a lot like “Comma Juice!” I took it upon myself to broaden the investigation by providing a bottle of Maine potato vodka, and another of vodka distilled in Austin, Texas, allegedly from wheat, but more likely from petroleum. The potato seems to be winning out. It’s distinctive and smooth.
My friend Cyril Reade came back through Maine on his way to Philadelphia a week ago (August 21st), to check out my progress. He brought jam he made and superior Montreal bagels. Barbara has trekked over from Orland the past couple weekends and has taken me to a couple of her favorite beaches, one on Mount Desert Isle (excellent cobbles!) and near Ellsworth (expansive views!), as well as shopping at Remy’s (clothing deals – I’m beating up my socks and t-shirts), coffee, and a classic lobster roll. We also checked out a tidal falls near Sullivan – where some say Down East begins (well, north of there, anyway, thought Barbara says Bucksport marks then southern boundary of Down East).
Tomorrow the Castine volunteers man the big reception tent at the Symposium site, so I’ll get to see some folks I probably know from there, and they’ll get to see their sculpture farther along. Local schools are starting, too, so we’ll start to see kids on field trips. It’s Labor Day Weekend, so I imagine there will be lots of visitors. Claudia Schmitt is playing a coffee house concert at Hammond Hall (where we made our presentations) down the street tomorrow night – a voice from the past – mine anyway. Valerie and I used to hear her in Eau Claire when we lived there many years ago. Maybe I’ll go! We’ll work on Saturday, as usual, and clean up and rest on Sunday, then back to it on Monday. Somewhere in there, I’ve gotta get some planning and preparation done for the start of my program at Evergreen in another four weeks! The trick will be to bring some of this Symposium energy to my class this fall and keep it going!
Good thoughts to all of you!