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Monty Python would have loved it. I wouldn’t be surprised if  John Cleese had a hand in planning the Roche Harbor Hand Tool Carving Retreat April 20-23 on beautiful San Juan Island. Imagine walking up to an amazing Sculpture Garden where festive tents complete with waving colorful flags waited for participants. Then, close to the fence, crowded by pallets of stone, stands a man in a kilt. (It turned out to be Scott Hackney, from Marenakos Rock Center.)


In itself, one man in a kilt does not constitute a Python moment. But by the night of the auction, everywhere I turned there were men in kilts. Not just any men, either. Lane Tompkins, Master Auctioneer, led the charge, assisted by two Kilted Runners Supreme. Tom Small, a master sculptor from the island, and Adam Heller, a hand carver originally from Rhode Island, now from Portland, Oregon; enticed us with various and sundry objects donated for the cause.


The first item to be offered, a baritone aria by newcomer Tim Sexton from Seattle, was bought b magnificent y Rick Johnson for $50.00.  We were spellbound as Tim treated us to an acappella rhapsody in German right there in the festive tent with the colorful flags. (The following night, Tim surprised us again, this time singing in French at the opening of the Sculpture Show at the Island Museum of Art.)  Thanks Tim, for opening these two events in such a rich and unforgettable way!


Rumor had it that a kilt was to be auctioned off during the evening. I immediately had visions of my husband - in a Utilikilt. You can bet I was going to be a bidder. But, in a moment of wine lust, I left the auction. When I returned with a bottle to share, there was Tom Small, strutting around the room, hands held high, Utilikilt swirling around his manly knees.


My moment had come. I heard a bid made for $22. Without stopping to think, I shouted out, "$40"! I heard the group gasp. Not missing a beat, Lane closed the bid. Forty dollars to Silvia Behrend for the six inch riffler!


Yes, my fellow carvers, in my haste, I had bought what Tom held high in his hand: a beautiful 6” Italian Milani riffler. So who looks up when a man is wearing a kilt?


I may be a hasty bidder when around men in kilts, but not when describing the retreat. It was excellent. There were three elements that made it the perfect introduction for a newbie to a NWSSA workshop: care, companionship and camaraderie.



The Planning Committee: Alex Morosco, Jan Brown, Penelope Crittenden and Lane Tompkins couldn’t have demonstrated more how much they truly cared that the workshop meet everyone’s needs. Not only did they have available sturdy work tables, tools, tents, tarps and anything else one might need, they themselves were everywhere.


Jan, with help from Penelope, designed and had printed, the must-have, Gargoyle emblazoned T-Shirts which sold like hotcakes (there may be one or two left). While foresight had dictated that the t-shirts be long sleeved, the weather did not merit such careful planning. In fact, it seems that the Planning Team had arranged to have beautiful, sunny and warm weather for the duration of the retreat.


Careful and care full planning went into the meals. I don’t know where Alex found her, but Kate, our caterer, was fabulous. All the food was gourmet, fresh and served hot! From the organic vegetable soup to the mushroom and beef pasties available in both phyllo and plain dough to the dripping with chocolate goodies, no one walked away hungry. Rolled away, maybe.


I mention the food because it demonstrates the quality of care for the participants’ all around well-being. While not every retreat can boast a gourmet cook, I felt that all my needs had been considered. There was plenty of everything, food, water, juices, sodas, beer and wine.


Except for the second night, that is. It seems that we, the people, had more than amply sated our desire for wine. The wine for the auction had been tapped into for the night before! Would Alex have to make a bottle run to Friday Harbor? Would the incredibly well balanced budget be busted? No, on all counts. Stonecarvers are a resourceful lot. Lane quickly found out who had brought reserves and charmingly requested donations for the good of the group.


The auction went off splendidly thanks to the beneficence of oenophile donors! Whether it was the wine, the water or the good time vibe given off by the kilted wonder men, almost $2500 was raised. (Did I mention that $40 of that went for a six inch riffler?) This brings me to the next element.



There is something about stone and people who love stone. Call it what you will, if you can call it anything at all. My own stone carving started in the high desert of the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah, where disparate women met in 2002. Maybe we were desperate for a new way to connect with our creative selves. Surely it was unusual for a pathologist, a retired financial wizard, a psychiatrist, a film writer- producer and a minister to meet over stone.


But meet we did, and chip and carve and sand and polish. Not just at the Red Butte Garden Chapungu workshops, but in one another’s back yards or kitchens or on stumps.  Stone carving had become a language that brought us together and kept us together long after the end of the official workshop.


I can honestly say that carving stone changed my life, radically and unequivocally. As the minister in a congregation in Salt Lake City, I set up an Artist-in-Residence program with Amos Supini, one of the Zimbabwean artists. He and Mike Reid taught carving in a house next to the church which had been made habitable by the Salt Lake City Gang.


The program was designed to serve people who could pay and those who could not.Sudanese refugees, people with AIDS, the disabled, disenfranchised, carved alongside their fellow humans. Something wonderful happened among them.


And something wonderful happened to me. I realized that I had reached the end of my ministry in that particular place. I was able to leave behind a well loved congregation to pursue another way of living and ministering.


The Hand Tool Carving Retreat allowed me to once again experience the companionship of those who had accompanied me in my struggles, pain and joy. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect place to gather than in the community of those who love stone. I am grateful to NWSSA for providing an atmosphere of care and consideration where we could, once again, play.



We weren’t the only ones who had come knowing others. There were groups who had carved together for years, some who had never carved and some who came from as far as Rhode Island. Dean Korpan came from Connecticut by way of South Dakota to join in the fun. (He lost a day of the workshop by being stranded by a blizzard in the Dakotas.) What could be more fun than talking with all these folks about stone, tools, tricks and techniques, hand pain, wrist pain and calluses?

Amy Brier, Gargoyle Queen and Limestone Maven, walked among us giving individual instruction about the stone we worked on. By making the rounds several times, she gave us that valuable feedback on how we were doing. Thank you Amy for not only sharing with us descriptions of  your restoration work in Europe, but also for giving us your personal brand of one on one, hands-on guidance.


The two mentors: David P. Miller and Tracey Powell shared their knowledge and skill with amazing grace. Most of the time, anyway.


After repeatedly telling me to throw the hammer as though it were a baseball into a glove, David finally gave up. I still pushed the hammer as though it were a piston. Then, after obviously thinking about what he could say to get through to me, he suggested I think of the hammer as bread dough. As a former baker of bread, I understood exactly the motion required of me!


Tracey solved another one of my problems. He simply told me that I was carving the wrong way. Instead of carving into the core of the stone to rough out, I should carve into the air. I had forgotten that. Thank you Tracey, for watching.


And that is what camaraderie is all about: people watching out for one another, encouraging each other’s passion, making spaces for growth. The circle of care and concern is wide and far-reaching. Kay Kamerzell, Director of The Westcott Bay Institute for Art and Nature, not only facilitated the tenting of the space, but also arranged to have the gallery show for the participants at the Island Museum of Art in Friday Harbor. Karl Hufbauer sold a piece there the first night!

Much of the camaraderie, of course, took place after carving. The final night, after the well-attended artists’ reception at the gallery, we met for a goodbye dinner at Roche Harbor’s McMillans restaurant. While the wait staff was kept busy serving libations, and the kitchen struggled (seemingly endlessly) to find all its ingredients, we had time to enjoy the sun setting over the pristine bay.


For four days, we had watched the sun rise (Yes, in a cloudless sky!) from the comfort of our cozy cabins. While coffee brewed, we were able to gaze out at the tents amid the sculptures to one side, and the boats in the water on the other. That Saturday sunset was a fitting end to our time together.


Roche Harbor was magnificent, the company was stupendous, and oh, did I mention that we carved gargoyles?