Detoured Along the Path

The shortest distance between two points is NEVER a straight line if it’s a public art project. Especially if a hurricane named Sandy decides to visit the day you are to begin working.

The stone arrived from Indiana in the middle of a rodeo – the snowplow rodeo. If you ever wondered how snowplow drivers avoid mailboxes, sidewalk curbs, and the occasional snow covered vehicle, it’s because they practice – a lot. Drivers maneuver their plows around and between cones while someone clocks their time with a stop watch. No one wears a cowboy hat. (There is a however, a real rodeo 4 miles from my firehouse in Johnsville, Maryland. They ride real bulls and wear cowboy hats.

In the world of stone transport, trucking companies deliver but do not off-load. When the truck finally made it’s way to the Carroll County Highway Maintenance Facility gate, the front end loader and crew were waiting.

The operator of the loader maneuvered the “forks” under the stone and lifted it off the bed of the truck.  Using hand signals, the crew guided his movements. As he placed the stone into the workspace, I once again appreciated the skills and knowledge of those whose work is often invisible in our daily lives.

Setting up a Studio

A stone sculptor’s studio is a lot like an auto repair shop: filled with large objects that need moving, littered with tools of all shapes and sizes and accompanied by the sound of a pneumatic tool.  In repair shops, there are lifts. In stone studios, there are gantrys.

A gantry is like an engine hoist – only bigger. You use it to move stone as you sculpt. When I first moved into the firehouse, I needed a custom made gantry. At the hardware store in town, I asked about a welder. “Go to Bill Lee.”  He occupied a ramshackle shop on the corner of Rt. 75 and Clemsonville Road just outside of Union Bridge. The yard was ‘littered’ with metal of various shapes and sizes, some abandoned vehicles and smoke from the wood stove. His dog “Bear” announced all visitors. Every year, Bill planted potatoes in the field behind his shop. Bill was born to weld. I often sat next to his wood stove and watched him work. He once told me that he left school early because the moment he learned to weld, he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing it.

On his way to the Post Office one day, he showed up at my studio, took a few measurements, and a week later, installed the gantry. It fit perfectly. Bill has since passed away. He took with him a lifetime of knowledge.   He was an artisan.

The bill of laden said my stone weighed 18000 lbs or as I explain to friends: it is equal weight to the following: 9 elephants or 9 Smart cars. It was too big to work on in the Firehouse.

So, I took my tools, compressors, hose reel, grinders, scaffolding, gloves, masks, ear and eye protection, a few big crow bars, extension cords, miscellaneous tools, a hand cart, a dolley, a chalkboard and a comfy chair to the “Studio Annex.” I would also need my gantry.

At the hardware store in town, I once again asked for a welder. “Go to Kyle.” His shop is near the intersection of 77 and 194 in Keymar. Although there was no sign, it was easy to locate. The yard was filled with metal of various shapes and sizes and a field of seemingly abandoned vehicles. There was smoke coming out of a wood stove chimney.

Before I could finish explaining what I needed, Kyle stopped me. When he was 14 years old, he had been Bill Lee’s apprentice. In fact, his wood stove had belonged to Bill. He explained the intricate process he and Bill devised to install the gantry.  He would reverse it to de-install and move it. Kyle Palumbo is the owner of Welding Contractors LLC.  Like his mentor, he was born to weld. He is another artisan in my life. 


Stone carvers cannot work alone. When I went to Italy to learn stone carving, I also learned that many artists work with artigiani. In the world of stone, they are considered, not only skilled sculptors, but a national treasure. They can copy works of art and enlarge designs made by artists.  They use large drills and saws to remove excess stone. There is a long history of hiring artisans to help execute a piece. The book ‘The Art of Not Making: The New Artist/ Artisan Relationship ‘ explores the relationship between artist and artisan.

The design of Liber is a triangular form. Therefore, the rectangular block of stone must be split.  It is hard to imagine removing 8000 lbs of stone before beginning the actual sculpture. It is do- able but the amount of time required would prevent me from meeting my deadline.

Many stone carvers pass through the doors of The Vermont Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in Vermont. We come to learn, to teach, to network, to support the continuation of the craft. B Amore, founder and past director, has been my mentor for 25 years. I often turn to her for advice and support. She provides it willingly and generously.  B has been carving since she was a child. She creates public works and is familiar with the challenges of working large pieces of stone. She advised seeking an artigiani.

Rick Rothrock is also an alum of the Carving Studio. We have never met but have spent a month emailing about the vagaries of working limestone. He collaborates with sculptors. I have asked him to work with me. He has agreed.

My artigiani arrives today. And that hour we lost last spring will be returning this weekend…and I have a good use for it.