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In Review: The Museum and the Henge

Maryhill Museum HengeBy Benjamin Mefford
Creature CarvingMaryhill Museum has been on my list of places to visit for a decade, and I finally made a point to spend a day exploring. The 5,300 acre property is located two hours drive east of Portland, Oregon on the Washington side of the river. This quiet landscape with sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge is well worth a visit, particularly for sculptors. Founded by Sam Hill in the 1920’s, the museum has a fascinating history. The museum itself is a large building, with some modern updates and a diverse collection. Inside you can find a permanent collection of more than 50 works by Auguste Rodin, primarily plaster studies. While these are perhaps less impressive as art objects compared to his larger finished works, I found them both more accessible and more informative of his process. Also of particular interest is the collection of Native American artworks that includes stone sculpture. Altogether, the Indigenous Peoples of North America Collection has more than 3,500 objects. While there are just several moderate sized works that would clearly be considered “sculpture”, this is more than I have ever seen of such stone artifacts from our region. For me, seeing these hand pecked carvings in basalt alone was worth the trip.

Maryhill Museum - "Moon Temple" 2006 Leon WhiteSpread out around the exterior of the museum, one can discover the outdoor art collection. A large concrete sculpture installation is sited within an overlook garden, and was created by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Form Works of Portland, Oregon; this was an early project for Cloepfil and AFW, who have gone on to structural design projects for Wieden + Kennedy, Caldera Arts Center, and the Seattle Art Museum, to name just a few. Just southeast of the main building, Brushing (2009), by Mike Suri, playfully illustrates the effect of powerful winds that move through the Columbia River Gorge. Mike is not only a talented metal sculptor, but he has also helped many NWSSA members install their works in the outdoor exhibit Gallery Without Walls in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Just a short distance to the northwest of the main building, a tranquil green space includes about half of the outdoor artworks. There, I found the granite and steel sculpture Moon Temple (2006) - created by none other than long-time NWSSA member Leon WhiteHenge 2

Now let us travel east a few miles down the road. Have we left that original property of Sam Hill yet? Nope. Down a short ways from the highway and approaching the Columbia River once again, we find an immense memorial: a full scale replica of the ancient megalith Stonehenge. With only some minor variations, the Maryhill Henge is intended to precisely capture what Hill determined was the original design of ancient Stonehenge, at the time that it was built. This might be the earliest example of its kind of modern public art in the region. The structure was dedicated to the memory of soldiers killed during WWI. While the Maryhill Henge is made of reinforced concrete rather than massive stones - and I imagine does not have quite the same supernatural presence of the original - it has some distinct advantages that you won’t get by trekking to England. Most importantly, you can walk all around it, within it, and touch the columns. It is free and open to the public every day of the year. There were some other visitors, but for a little while I had the whole place to myself. Standing within the massive structure really helps one to take in the scale of the original. We sculptors know better than most that pictures just do not do justice to the experience of interacting with three dimensions. By itself, stepping out from between the columns for a look at the Columbia River Gorge is spectacular. Basalt cliffs under open skies… what else could a stone sculptor ask for in a view?
Brushing 2009 Mike Suri  

Maryhill Museum 
Henge 4Henge 3

Painting on Stone Sculptures

by Jonna Ramey

A surprising tool in the sculptor’s kit is paint. Never having tried this before, I reached out to NWSSA members for information. Oregon-based sculptor MJ Anderson came through with details and inspiration. This article is based on our conversations and my experiments.

MJ has been known to incorporate metallic paint colors such as gold, silver, and copper (as well as flat black, gray, white, bright blue, and red!), usually to unify a textured area, transform a problem spot in the material, or sometimes to add as a needed, integral part of the sculpture. She also applies metallic leaf to her work, which is another, longer story. Metallic paint formulas impart a delicious luminance to stone. I tested metallic gold, silver, copper, graphite gray, gold flake, black, and brown.
My first piece to paint was a busy relief sculpture of a gingko bough that I carved in honeycomb calcite. Once polished, the leaves and stems were virtually invisible against the background. I used brown paint to deepen the shadows, making the high-gloss leaves and branches pop.

Materials and environment.
MJ recommended working with oil-based enamel paints like Testor brand metallic paints on stone. She has also used oil-based varnish sprays. The effects can be subtle, beautiful, and rich. She uses both bottled and spray paints but prefers sprays. I found I liked bottled paint on this one piece but can see the advantage of sprays for unique colors and effects. You’ll need lots of rags (cut up t-shirts or sheets work well), clean paint thinner, Q-tips, nitrile gloves, and mixing sticks. You need a clean space to work in (no dust). Air temperature of 50-75 degrees is good. Too hot and the paint will dry on your rag before you can get it onto the stone. Good ventilation is important: you don’t want to kill brain cells or ignite fumes into flames.

These steps assume that you have sanded, buffed, and finished your piece to your satisfaction before beginning applying paint.

Step one. Cover the piece/area with the stone impregnator sealer that you normally use (511 Impregnator, for example). You do this first so that the petroleum-based impregnator will not interfere with the oil-based paint later. Apply it according to product directions and/or your preference. Once applied, dried and cured, you can proceed to step two.

Step two. The basic technique involves two rags—one with paint on it and one with thinner. You swipe on the paint with one rag and then swipe off with the thinner rag. You keep up this swipe on/swipe off process until you achieve the color density or effect you desire. Having some thinner on your paint rag before you dab it into the paint is good to help keep the paint more transparent. Being relaxed as you work, trusting your instincts and taste, you’ll add the subtle warming, shadowing or luster you need in the piece.

Tips and Test.
When using spray oil-based enamels or varnishes, MJ recommends spraying the paint into the cap of the can. Wipe the paint out with your paint rag and then swipe it onto the sculpture. She likes using paint thinner to thin the paint and make it more transparent. It may take you longer to build up the color or effect you want but the control you have with a more transparent paint is essential.
Test 1
Colors on this side of the test stone (L to R) are liquid metallic black, gold, silver, gold flake, and copper.
Test 2
Colors on this side of the test stone (L to R) are liquid brown, metallic sprays of graphite, silver, gold, and brown.

I found that first creating a test stone with a variety of colors was very helpful. I took a shard of faded honeycomb calcite, carved some quick grooves into it with my angle grinder, and sanded the surface to about 400 grit. I then used 511 impregnator sealer on the stone. I taped off little test areas on the front, back and sides of the stone. Then I applied a variety of colors and paint types (liquid and spray). I painted one square the ‘solid’ color and the square next to it the ‘swipe on/swipe off’ version with 3-5 swipes. I made notes so that I can later remember what section included what color or treatment. Taking off the tape once dry, I could directly compare the untreated stone with the various colors and swipe levels. I immediately realized that some of the colors could enhance other existing sculptures in unique ways, beyond the specific piece I am working on now. I keep the test stone and notes with the box of paints and thinner for future reference. Sculptors, have fun experimenting.

Gingko Before  Ramey Gingko Bough1 after
Before & After
“Gingko Bough” by Jonna Ramey. An example of paint on honeycomb calcite.

When The World Dissolves,  MJ Anderson“When the World Dissolves” by MJ Anderson. An example of using paint on an alabaster sculpture.

Jonna Ramey is a sculptor based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
MJ Anderson sculpts in Nehalem, Oregon and Carrara, Italy.

Sculptfest 2019

"Pause", The Bear in place for 2019-2020 by Carl NelsonFor 27 years the City of Round Rock, Texas, has held the three day SculptFest event.  Along with 60 other artists, I was invited to display my sculpture at SculptFest 2019, and to leave my large bear sculpture “Pause” on display for one year.  Special thanks to Candyce Garrett for making it happen for me.

SculptFest 2019 Stone CarversBeing at SculptFest was a great way to meet other sculptors and see a lot of sculpture.  There were large and small bronzes, cloth and fiber constructions, wood, and of course stone.  I have to admit, I was so involved with the initial setup, talking to the public, and getting to know the other artists that I did not take many pictures of the sculpture.  SculptFest the previous year had 24 of Alan Houser’s large bronze pieces, which made for a surreal occurrence of his work being moved out while Candyce and Jason moved in their stone work.

Photo: I felt very honored to be a part of the group of stone carvers Candyce asked to participate in the event (left to right) Myself,  Larry Yazzie, Jason Quigno, Tony Lee, Candyce Jones Garrett, Cliff Fragua, Ray Scott, Adrian Wall and Jon DeCelles.]

I also traded off between my Sculptor hat and my NWSSA hat while a part of SculptFest, including in conversations with Joe Kenny, president of the Texas Society of Sculptors.  We talked about NWSSA’s support of a new veterans sculpting program, and Joe put us in touch with Continental Cut Stone who donated 3000 lbs of limestone from their bone yard for use in support of our efforts.  Jason Quigno accompanied me to select and pickup stone from Continental.   

Our visit to the Continental Cut Stone boneyard and this is a small fraction.  Jason Quigno immediately had to figure out how to take this quarry block home, or at least have his photo taken with it 

Given that I drove the boom truck from Washington to Texas, I also had the opportunity to visit other stone yards and quarries on the way home.  Marble Falls, Texas is home to Coldspring Granite and Sandra D. Connors, who has much wisdom in selling stone to sculptors, is the holder of the keys to the Coldspring Granite Texas candy store.  She gave Jason Quigno, Larry Yazzie, and me a tour of their stone yard and arranged for their quarry manager, Terry, to take us into the quarry to explain how they do it. The yard and quarry are an impressive place to shop. If you ever need reds or dark grey-black granite, contact Sandra.  And by the way, Marble Falls is misnamed, there is no marble there. 

Calcite: Wonderful dendritic patternsThe final leg of the return trip took me about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City to Rick and Jean’s honeycomb calcite yard, the Shamrock Mining Association in Hanna Utah.  Honeycomb Calcite is what happens when a limestone cave is pushed down into the earth and the calcium from the limestone is leached, fills the cave, is baked for millions of years, pushed back up, and then some folks quarry and bring it down the mountain for us to carve.  I'd characterize the workability of this stone as a medium to soft marble.  The weakest places can be, but not always, the large white seams between the solid yellow and orange areas.  Dark red lines in some of the stones are very solid fractures that have healed. Rick calls them dinosaur blood seams.

Given that I came early in their season, snow was late to leave this year and Rick was generous with his time. He showed me their shop with wire saw, projects in process, some of their processing techniques, and a machine he built for coring from a 4” pipe threader.  Once out in their yard he was helpful in pointing out the color patterns and solid stones for carving. Later, before I left with over 3000# of stone, Jean showed me some of the jewelry she makes from the calcite.  There is a lot of stone available, and equipment to help load it.

I’ll return next year to pickup the bear and am thinking of organizing a one time stone buy for NWSSA members. Stay tuned.

Ways of Knowing

Bob Leverich’s Commission by the Washington State Arts Commission
to create a sculpture on the grounds of Vashon Island High School.
Ravensdale Quarry Boulder SplitVery early on a Saturday back in June, 2017, we loaded my pick-up with a generator and lots of supplies and headed to the Ravensdale gravel quarry to make this successful boulder split.

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We Don't Make Mistakes

Happy Accidents - Bob Ross“We don’t make mistakes, we just make happy accidents.” - Bob Ross

Every writer at some point will experience writer's block. Carvers too can have the experience of feeling as though they have come to a creative dead end. Sometimes facing a new stone is all it takes.

Unless we have A Plan. Often we carve from a maquette. Following the original design precisely. Sometimes we begin with a drawing on paper and transfer it exactly to a grid on a block of dimensional stone.

Or, sometimes, we just direct carve.

We may begin with an idea, or we may just let our mind float. Go on automatic and get lost in the shapes and texture and color of the stone.

Or we might come up with nothing. That’s the time to invite your muse in and listen to what she has to say. Maybe something like this:

Anything you want to do you can do here. Maybe there’s a figure ready to leap from the stone. Maybe there’s an abstract inside. Often it just happens - whether or not you worried about it or tried to plan it.

Isn’t it great to do something you can’t fail at? We spend so much of our life looking - but never seeing. Now’s the chance to see our inner vision and translate it to stone.

Talent is a pursued interest. That is to say, anything you practice you can do. And the more you practice, the better you get.

No pressure. Just relax and watch it happen. The least little curve can do so much.

Don’t hurry. Take your time and enjoy. Let all these things just sort of happen. Chip a little away from here, make a swoop there, create a space.

Grind off a third of the stone. Smooth out bumps. Create bumps.

All you have to do is let your imagination off the leash. There’s really no end to this. Have a little bit of fun.

Come on. Pick up a tool. Let’s get started.

The editors thank Bob Ross for the inspiration for the above suggestions.