Limestone for “Liber”

I am 30,000 feet in the air on my way to Indiana. (At this point, the ear worm begins:  Either it’s the Jackson 5 song  “Going Back to Indiana” OR the one that starts: Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana…. ) It is the next step in creating a sculpture for the Mary L. Dewey Sculpture Garden at the Carroll County Public Library.

I am heading to a limestone quarry to select a stone. I swam in quarries in Maine; I toured underground quarries in Vermont; I purchased marble from the same quarry as Michelangelo in Italy…but I have never been to an Indiana limestone quarry.

Central Indiana has been called the Limestone Capital of the US. Independent Limestone has been providing stone for monuments since 1927. Their stone was used in the construction of the Empire State Building, the Washington Cathedral, the Pentagon Phoenix Project after 9-11.

The people who work in quarries- some are third generation – carry the history of the nation in their genes. More than half the state houses in the U.S. were built from Indiana limestone. Everywhere you go in this part of Indiana you see stone: bridges, buildings, monuments, benches, walkways, side walks. Alfred Jaar used limestone-filled Gabion baskets is his artwork at the Indianapolis Art Museum.

Even the Indianapolis public library was constructed of local stone. 

Forming a stone

Limestone is a sedimentary rock made up of calcite (CaCO3) as its main mineral. Some limestones were formed by chemical deposition and others by the accumulation of shells from minute sea creatures. Many invertebrate animals (animals with no backbones) take calcite from sea water to construct their shells. When they die the shells fall to the sea bed. Sometimes when you are carving limestone, it emits an earthy smell – a remnant of the organic process.

 I live in Union Bridge – home to Lehigh Portland Cement. Our town is built on a bed of limestone. The foundations of many of the buildings – including mine – come from Lehigh. When you start to dig a garden, you understand quickly just how much stone there is. The limestone that is quarried at Lehigh is mixed with shale, sand, clay and “clinker” to create cement. The Union Bridge limestone is too difficult to carve necessitating the trek to Indiana.

Selecting a stone

 Limestone is unique in that it hardens over time when exposed to the elements.  Granite is too hard and sometimes cold feeling. Marble feels warmer but does not weather the out of doors as well as limestone.

There are many kinds and colors of limestone. Independent is known for its buff (a slight yellow hue) and silver. It is a tight grained stone without veining. I am looking for a silver stone.

Sculpting stone is dirty, dusty, noisy work. Mining stone is dirty, dusty, noisy work with MUCH bigger machines.

Carey Stapleton, the General Manager at Independent Limestone, has worked with stone for 40 years – as did his dad. As we toured the quarry, he explained the limestone mining process.

The quarry at Independent Limestone is an open pit so you can stand at the rim and see layers of time. Removing the stone is very methodical. They work one area at a time.  The blocks are cut with diamond studded wire loops and then put on trucks. The stone blocks are marked with the date they were mined – kind of like a birthday. Surrounding the quarry are giant blocks of stone waiting patiently to be shipped to their final destination. They are waiting to be transported to a fabrication shop to be transformed from a block of stone into gargoyles, balusters, a building face, a stone tile, a bridge or a sculpture.

We find a stone that will be perfect for the library. It measures 60” x 60” x 48” and weighs 14,000 lbs. I gasp – several times. This will be the biggest stone I have worked with to date. Carey marks the stone and sets it aside for transport to Maryland.

Transporting a Stone

Life in Indiana feels a little more laid back. Commutes are under 20 minutes and everyone is very helpful. Without an appointment, I head to Stone Belt transport.

Dave Kallio has been in the stone transport business for a long time. He knows the history of Indiana limestone based on the destinations of his trucks.

Dave offers to put our stone on a truck with other stones heading East in order to reduce the cost of shipping. His questions about bridge weight limits, size of the forks on the loader that will take the stone off the truck, and which face of the stone will “look up at the sun” indicate I MAY need to re-think my plan to carve at the Carroll County Maintenance Yard.

Synchronicity at Work

 Bybee Stone, a few miles away, is a fabrication company that specializes in architectural restoration and sells limestone carving tools. There is a Limestone Symposium taking place there.

(What are the chances that my visit would coincide with a limestone carving symposium? Seriously.)

Attendees at the Symposium learn carving techniques, use of tools, and just how difficult it is to carve stone. Bybee is committed to sustaining the art of limestone carving, and generously provides an outdoor working area near their mill building, up to 8 cubic feet of limestone per participant, forklift assistance for moving stones, and a compressor to operate pneumatic hammers.

It is late in the day. As I stop to watch sculptors work, I grow anxious to begin my piece for the library.