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A New Member's Take on Pack Forest - July/Aug 2008

The weather was wild for much of the weekend, but even the frequent and heavy rains failed to dampen the spirits of the carvers at the 2008 NWSSA Hand carving Symposium. Under the pavilion at the Pack Forest Conference Center, and around the campfire beside it, we all shared an incredible weekend of fellowship and artistry.


Everyone who attended the event brought his or her warm spirits, funny stories, and unique artistic talents. Although many of us had never met before, we soon began to bond as a group. By the end of the symposium, it felt like we were all old friends.


The instructors were fantastic to work with, each with a wide range of insights and advice to offer. At least a few of us were carving stone for the very first time, and each instructor took the time to circulate among all of us. It was a pleasure to become acquainted with each of them, as they visited us at our workstations. But it was equally exciting to have a chance to watch them at work, and ask them questions about technique, from that perspective as well.


Karl Hufbauer played roles as event director and instructor. True to his reputation as a carver of hard stone, Karl chipped away at a big piece of jasper for much of that weekend. Although we were primarily carving softer stone, it was great to be able to get some advice from Karl about working hard stone, as well.


Tracy Powell gave me my first instruction, showing me some basic removal techniques on a large chunk of Texas limestone. He demonstrated the use of several types of chisels, and offered advice on how to grip the tools comfortably and safely. He also stressed the importance of good posture, taking frequent breaks and stretching out periodically in order to ward off fatigue.


Sharon Feeney, like the other instructors, was generous not only with her time but with her talent and her tools. Sharon’s subtle treatment of a tall obelisk of soapstone, transforming it into a graceful figure of a Great Blue Heron at rest, was amazing to watch. While taking breaks from carving, she was very supportive and encouraging to all of us newcomers.


Arliss Newcomb gave me two beautiful pieces of alabaster, the larger one of which I carved that weekend. It was a slab roughly the size and shape of a big footprint, and first reminded me of the surf crashing on the beach. In the end, I named it Madrona for the tree-form I ended up carving out of it. I was amazed to flip through Arliss’ portfolio. I found her work extremely inspiring.


Rich Andler and Lane Tompkins also proved to be great mentors and artists in their own rights. All of the instructors, mentors, and students alike, helped to make this a wonderful event.


Scott Hackney and Kentaro Kojima of Marenakos Rock Center in Issaquah, Washington brought some of their stone as well as a pallet from Randy Zieber of BC, Canada and one from Art City in Ventura California. Kentaro manned the sales desk for most of the weekend to sell us stone, tools, books and a variety of carving accessories.


On Saturday, activities included a blacksmithing lesson on tool making, offered by Al Mangold, one our first time carvers. Later that afternoon, Karl and Tracy gave a lesson on scoring and pitching techniques, in which they selected a boulder of granite, and proceeded to remove substantial chunks of the stone with apparent ease, using a large chisel and mallet.


Any re-telling of the weekend’s highlights would be incomplete without an account of Saturday night’s auction! It was my pleasure to serve as a sort of assistant to Tom Francis, our Auctioneer and Master of Ceremonies. We had a ton of fun that night, clowning about and raising money for NWSSA’s instructors and the work-study program, which enables people like me to attend these events and get connected with the organization.


Toward the end of the evening, Lane and Scott provided lots of laughs for all of us, by performing their annual waltz, in kilts and boots! Truly, an unforgettable sight!


All who attended the symposium are fine artists and fabulous people. I only wish that there had been more time to get to know more of you in greater detail.


I feel so fortunate to have been a part of it all, and was a little sad when it was over. I hope to be able to attend Camp Brotherhood, in July. I look forward to seeing you all again, and thank each and every one of you for a Pack Forest experience that I will always remember.

Could You Pass Me That Thingy? It All Happened at Silver Falls - Sept/Oct 2008

Feature interviews have taken Cathy Rae Smith from the Parisian couture house of Yves Saint Laurent to private tete a tetes with the likes of Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, David Yurman and Oscar de la Renta. She divides her energies between writing and creating contemporary art, stone carving being her most recent fascination. She is also a two-time Knight Scholar and a Fashion Group International Scholar.


The lure of carving stone alongside seasoned sculptors goes without saying. As if that is not inducement enough, factor in the splendor of a natural forest setting complete with multiple waterfalls, a cabin and three hot meals per day . . . well, count me in!

Little did I know my adventure into the wild world of stone carving, an addictive preoccupation I have found, would begin with such a bang. That bang came in the form of my car suffering a complete meltdown on Highway 22, just a few miles past Salem and shortly before the turn to Silver Falls. My first “camp” day was spent instead languishing for four hours in a hot car, eating a pack of saltine crackers, and hanging my feet out the open window to feel the breeze of traffic quickly whizzing past. After a long tow back to Portland and a kind friend offering me a ride the following day, I finally arrived and settled in to the distinctive tempo - chip, chip, chip, grind, grind, grind, eat, sleep, repeat.

Clouds of marble dust heightened the perpetual fogging of my safety glasses. However, Alex remedied the condensation issues, as it turned out, by providing me a decent dust mask if I promised to throw away the pitiful excuse for a mask I had been using. After that solution, I kept forgetting whether my safety glasses were even on until I would occasionally feel a chip bounce off my cheek. Foregoing the hammer and chisel after a day of minimal progress, I graduated up to the level of electric and air powered tools. I dazzled my contemporaries, I am sure, with my swift mastery of the air-powered pounding thingy and the electricity charged scrapping do-hickey, (now, don’t allow my freely tossing in all this technical jargon to intimidate).  I was a woman on a mission to pierce through the thick slab of marble. Happily, no make that triumphantly, I succeeded, with the support of kind and skilled sculptors around me.

David kept vigilance and visited us students like a steady, gently guiding influence, even letting us know when it was time to break for a meal. Laura helped me hash out my concept and Tom wielded a huge saw to transform into reality my idea of one stone becoming two companion pieces. Were it not for these brainstorming sessions and lending an experienced hand at the point of need, I could probably still be standing there, gazing in bewilderment at an imposing chunk of marble. Mention must also be made of the influence Stephanie’s ebullience has as an instructor, without whom I would not have been here.  Perhaps a certain measure of mounting fatigue aids the comic reaction, but it has been a long while since I had laughed as hard or as long when April, Monica and Shaina discovered the amazing sculpting properties of stone dust build-up in the hair. We speculated the possible cottage industry of a miracle mineral hair product for the general marketplace.

A close second to that for entertaining frivolity would have to be the product copywriting skills of April and Monica for the auction the night before. Who wouldn’t enhance their stone carving skills with the inclusion of a diamond encrusted squirrel Frisbee in one’s arsenal of trusty tools? The impromptu fashion shows lent more good humor to the group, (which I hear has a comic history predating this year’s event), while the overall camaraderie and generosity brought depth to the cause.

The final night, as the group settled around a crackling campfire beneath a dark sky lit by an array of stars, song and conversation really drove home the resonating wealth of this experience, my first time at camp. As the real magic of such an event comes from the collaboration of many, I’d like to include comments of a few others who attended:

“I'm intrigued with the tools of techniques of wet carving. Seems to keep down a whole lot of dangerous dust!”

-Dave Bilyeu

“This was my third time at Silver Falls as an amateur stone carver. It's always nice to come here because everyone treats you so well, like you’re someone, and I do just really enjoy the experience. My breakthrough this time was to get so many creative ideas and carve on several stones with a feeling of success. I am getting better each year. Thank you NWSSA!”

-Mike Kerns

“I had an amazing time at the symposium. I loved the camaraderie of all the participants, the community meals, dessert with every meal, and the colorful personalities of all the carvers. And as far as the carving goes, knocking off that first fret had me hooked. Ah, the satisfaction. “

-Shaina Zeiger (first time symposium attendee)

“We all loved the zany titles that April, Monica, Shaina and Cathy Rae put on the auction goodies. Among those printable are the set of plastic, stemmed glasses called, Six round trip tickets to Margaretville, and the, Ancient arc welder (works great! Smells even better!)”

-Tom Urban

Camp B THis Year - Sept/Oct 2008

My truck is packed – all full of the regular accoutrements one requires to holiday: air hammer, die grinder, chisels, diamond pads, angle grinder, air hose and extension cords, plinths to carve upon, a tent to sleep in, beer cooler for important storage and a guitar for random entertainment needs.


This is the annual trip to Camp Brotherhood Symposium 2008 near Mt Vernon, Washington where over seventy people from ages 21 to 81 gathered to carve stone for eight days without another care in the world. With no meals to think of cooking, no regular vocational responsibilities and no tedious domestic safety, Camp B is a place where you can absolutely be at home without being at home. There is clarity in the generosity of spirit that seemingly everyone who attends Camp B is imbued with. Inclusiveness is paramount, and sharing one’s knowledge is both rewarding and inspiring. So, if you want to feel illuminated by diverse spirit, to find yourself immersed in art, human wholeness, and general miscreant fun, then you really should find yourself at Camp-B next year.


The camp itself is a bucolic farmland with morning and evening light that makes one wish to paint. It offers undulating landscape replete with cows, rabbits, a donkey, a few sheep and several Jurassic Emus beating out a sonic percussion that resonates throughout the property. Tall, straight trees, bountiful gardens, moonlight nights and Paul, the caretaker of the farm, who shows nothing but welcoming kindness.


I know I'm sounding pretty positive here, but really it is like some kind of undeserving dream. I know of nowhere else like this.


This year the formidable Alexandra Morosco, who put together our cadre of instructors, invited architect Bob Leverich and stonemason Shannon Wean to design "A Hearth Effect." Under their guidance, we built a beautiful fire circle for which the granite was cheerfully donated by Marenakos Rock Center. We basked in the warm glow of the fire every night of Camp. For years to come it will be a place to commune in the evening for us folks from NWSSA as well as the many diverse groups that attend this facility throughout the year.


NWSSA is a volunteer run organization and, I believe, something worth protecting. It was started about 20 years ago as a means to have conversations about stone, to compare processes, to find friendship, but moreover to teach art through sharing. And this is the crux. If you have, or if you think you may have a passion for stone, you are welcome at any level and at any age to come see, learn and above all to participate in carving stone.


As with most volunteer organizations, NWSSA must engage in fund-raising, which allows us to promote valuable education within the association. One of the most enjoyable ways I can think of to raise funds is to have an auction where people donate quality items and other people bid on these items. Where else can you get a $10.00 T-Shirt for $60.00 and feel good about it? On Wednesday night, aglow with laughter and wine, everyone who had fallen in love with the feisty and prodigiously talented, featured guest artist, Nora Valdez, showered her with gifts that I'm sure she will take with her on her travels as she carves monumental sculptures around the globe. People were unabashedly generous in raising well over $4000. It made me so very proud to be a part of that generosity.

I'm home now, giddy with inspiration. My tools are unpacked and I have a couple of fresh rocks to carve from the ubiquitous traveler, Canadian stone seeker,

Randy Zieber of Neolithic Stone. And I have some new tools from Scott, Kentaro and Alex of the fabulous Marenakos Rock Center. NWSSA and Camp B have given me a sense of being able to accomplish anything through hard work and a diligent focus. I must confess to each and every one of you that you have found a place in my heart. In particular, this year’s outgoing director, Arliss Newcomb, has once again suffused Camp B with her unfailing warmth and considerably benevolent hospitality. Happy ‘retirement’ Arliss!


To quote the wisdom of Tracy Powell after attending his first Symposium 16 years ago, "I have found my tribe."


I raise a toast to memories of 2008 and look forward to July 2009 where, I’m certain, we will successfully meet again. Rock on!!