The Saint John Stone Sculpting Symposium began with fire and brimstone, and massive flows of lava moving across great scathes of our fair province. Fortunately for everyone involved the last 390 million years has given things plenty of time to cool down; bystanders and artists alike have little more to be concerned about than the lingering clouds of Devonian by-product that have come to replace the usual harbour-front fog each morning. It was on the far side of one of these that I found Alison Gayton, a returning intern, finishing her lunch inside of the site’s many small tents. She offered me a cherry tomato, but the twenty seconds it had taken me to cross the lot had already filled my mouth my with a fine dust.
Alison is a local potter, small and fierce, and there is no doubt in my mind that she can take me in a fight. She also has the honour of being the one returning intern from the first symposium in 2012. “I also went to Italy last summer to take a stone carving workshop. Most of the people here speak Italian because that’s the language of stone. What I learned there in terms of stone and in terms of language have definitely puffed me into being more bold and more confident this time around.”
Alison is currently interning under Jhon Gogaberishvili of the Republic of Georgia, one of this year’s eight artists. “His sculpture is especially intricate and very involved in terms of removal and extraction so he requires more assistance than others may. Because I don’t have a complete idea of what he wants due to the fact that there isn’t one drawing that I can refer to, and there isn’t a really strong English connection between us a lot of this is moment-to-moment. Johnny will say to me, ‘Carve this directly, make this flush, make this straight, make this curved’ and I just do it job-by-job and he always has something for me to do. His advice to me is ‘Always slowly-slowly, okay? No slowly-slowly? Problem.’ And I’m always surrounded in finished areas, so I have to be very, very accurate.” As a full time artist she has her long-term career plans in mind, “I want to eventually be one of the artists that make one of the large works here. I feel I require more training; outside of what I do at the symposium, and outside what I do for the internship. I feel I need to go aboard and study for a year or so intensively with somebody. When I asked our intern-coordinator where do people go to learn stone carving now I said I want to learn in English, he said ‘No no, just learn Italian. It’s an easy language to learn. Go to Italy, learn Italian, take your class. You’ll be great.’ So I think that’s what I’ll do. Italy is a pretty great place to live. It’s expensive, but great.”
Wyatt Lawrence is a boat builder from St Andrews, and a first year intern, “This is the first time I’ve worked with stone. Usually I work with wood, its different tools, similar techniques for shaping. A lot of relief cuts with different types of tools, but it’s been good. Granite is one of the toughest things there is to carve so the tools have to be pretty tough to do it. […] I love the fact that I’m always trying to make wood last forever, and you can make it last an awful long time, but stone already has a longevity about it. Even though it’s a simple material I really admire it. Certainly granite and everything we carve here is going to be around for centuries. It’s got quite a permanence. As far as humankind goes there’s not much else you can lay a hand to that’s going to be here for centuries, and I admire that about the material and that’s really the draw for me. It’s a window into this type of world where you can work with this; you can kind of put a mark on the planet. All these artists have made sculptures all over the world, attending different symposiums, so we’re lucky to have them come here and share a bit of that with us, and they’ll be here for an awful long time.”
The artists and interns have been quartered together at the Villa Madonna in Rothesay, which makes for a relaxing retreat at the end of the day, “We work really hard on site, my hands are aching and sore from days of holding tools in weird positions, and we get home at the end of the day and we’re crusted with fine powder and dust. We hit the showers and then we’re looking normal again. and just a lot of great conversation, social time, we have lovely meals together, and we’ve really made fast friends, everyone together, we’ve formed into this tight family. Less than a week we’re really fast friends. We’ve made a home there and they’ve fed us well, and they’ve got laundry facilities there so we can at least presentable when we show up here. It’s been really nice aspect to it. I don’t live too far from here; I try to go back and have a look at my place and feed the cat. But it’s been really fun hanging around in the evening and I’m sure we’ll all miss each other because it’s been an intense experience and we’ve grown really close.” Alison also tells me of the challenges of living away from her cat, “Audrey [Muffintusk] is okay. I visit her every now again, but she looks at me with confusion in her eyes and it breaks my heart.” Clearly there is much truth in what French Nobel Prize winner Alexis Carrel had to say, “Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.”
Wyatt remains unflappable in his enthusiasm for the program, part of larger symposium and ‘two-nation-vacation’ that spans from New Brunswick down through Maine. “I’ve just been very inspired because of all these people, because they all love to do it. They’re spending their entire careers traveling, and in their native countries creating public art, and really having fun surrounded with people. It’s been good to meet people from all over the place; from the republic of Georgia, Bulgaria, France, Netherlands, Germany and Japan. It’s a great exchange of information and I know now where the best tools in China are, and where to buy the best stuff in Vermont.”
The Stone Sculpting Symposium can be found on the Saint John waterfront until September 20th, 2014.