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Guest Sculptor

Calcite Carving with John LaFortune

Calcite carving by John LafortuneThe first ever NWSSA Virtual Symposium was quite an accomplishment! Not only did we get 90 or so stone carvers together online, but we managed to continue our professional development opportunities with virtual studio tours and presentations. Most of these were recorded, and are available by signing up for the Virtual Stone Carving Forum. See more at
In this issue of the journal we will share a preview of John LaFortune’s presentation on sculpting honeycomb calcite.

Calcite Carving with John LaFortune
Calcite Carving with John LaFortune
The calcite that I have, I handpicked it right from the quarry, which gives you a better chance of getting what you want. This piece “Fire Storm” is primarily the heavy, dark, amber orange color. Other shades may be more translucent, like those that are sort of a lemon color, but even as thick as this one is it still gets a lot of light coming through the stone. I started this piece June 1st, and finished it up mid-August. It’s going to get delivered soon to Therese Kingsbury’s sculpture garden for display on Whidbey Island.

Calcite Carving with John LaFortuneThe tools I used were primarily my Cuturi pneumatic air hammer with different chisels. I broke all of my tooth chisels! This piece of calcite is quite hard, and I noticed that the chisels would quickly heat up and break. My favorite chisel turned out to be a carbide-tipped rondel, which really carved the calcite like butter. A lot of people say you shouldn’t use pneumatics with calcite because of the vibration, but since I handpicked these stones I felt very confident that they would hold together. Yes, it does bruise, and if you get one forget about sanding it out, you’ll have to grind it down. Usually I like to use Italian rifflers, but they were struggling with the calcite, so I switched to a set of diamond files and was having better luck. For deep channels and the like, I use a mini die grinder with these single cut burrs from the automotive industry. They worked really well on the calcite.

The finishing is a big deal. Carborundum burrs work fantastically for smoothing out chisel marks and can be found at Neolithic Stone, 2sculpt, and Granquartz. For hand sanding, I highly recommend contoured clay sculpting tools that you can wrap sandpaper around. Cloth-backed sandpaper works well. I dry sand with 80 grit and 120 grit (using a really good respirator) for between 40-80 hours. Dry sanding is not ideal, but I felt that it was important to work dry to be able to see all of the scratches and tool marks clearly. After that I spent 2 hours each wet sanding on 220, 320, 400, and 600 grits. I stop at 600 and it leaves a beautiful satin finish. There are some more tips for carving and finishing this stone, so go online to check out the full video presentation!

Flight of the Stone Fountain

An interview with Woody Morris regarding his Pennsylvania bluestone fountain project for a Capitol Hill condominium complex.The finished fountain: with the beautiful look of natural stone and the soothing sounds of water.

Woody cutting a slot in the bluestone for the water weir.Q. Hi, Woody. We understand you are a stone sculptor as well as CEO of Waterscapes LLC. Which came first?
A. I started building water features in 1995 when I was in charge of Aqua Quips in-ground swimming pool division. We built custom liner swimming pools. A couple of our projects were Street of Dreams (which won a gold award from National Pool and Spa International) and an indoor swimming pool for Dale Chihuly. I formed Waterscapes LLC in 1997.

Q. When did you get into stone sculpture?

A. A good friend of mine, Richard Hestekind, talked me into attending a stone-carving symposium held at Camp Brotherhood in Mt. Vernon, in 2000. I spent 9 days there and was hooked. So when I’m not working with water features, I’m carving.

Q. What does Waterscapes specialize in?
A. We specialize in custom designed and built water features for indoor and outdoor installations. Most of our installations are waterfalls, streams, Koi ponds, indoor and outdoor stone, metal and glass waterwalls.All packed up with someplace to go.

Q. You recently did a large stone water feature for a condominium project in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. How did you get that project?
A. I was contacted by Mill Creek Residential Construction Corporation. They had heard of me by word of mouth.
Q. How did you decide what rock to use?
A. Their landscape designer met me at Marenakos Rock Center in Issaquah, Washington. We spent a few hours searching the entire facility for the perfect stones. We chose two Pennsylvania Bluestone slabs. One measured 3’ x 12” x 6’ and weighed about 1000 pounds. The other stone measured 5’ x 12” x 4’ and weighed about 1100 pounds.

Q. Where did you fabricate the stones?
A. We took them to our Studio located on Whidbey Island.

Q. How big is your studio?
A. We have a 7000 sq. foot studio shared by12 artists…

It’s a 45 second flight up and over the top.Q. What did you have to do to the stones before you took them back and installed them in Seattle?
A. I set them up as they would be installed and took exact measurements for the two waterfall weirs. After they were measured and marked I used a diamond water-fed gas-powered hand held chain saw to plunge cut the slots through the stones. I ground out the back of each stone to hold the lighted weir mechanisms. Once that was completed I used a torch to flame the surface of the stones to remove marks or flaws. When this process was complete I test-fit the weirs with running water.

Q. How did the install go?

A. We transported the two stones to the project site on the corner of 11th and E. Pike St. about a mile east of the Pike Place Market. There was a very large building crane on site for lifting the stones up and over the nine-story building and lowering them down into the ground floor central courtyard. We arrived on site with the trailer, parked in front of the building and the rigger hooked up the first stone and off it went. It took about 45 seconds in flight and over the building. Then the next. I wish all installs were that easy. Once the stones were over the building they were set in place in a concrete basin.That’s Woody on the left directing the installation.

Q. How were they secured?

A. The stones were bolted into the concrete.

Q. How was the plumbing completed?

A. We used a Filtrific storage tank, containing the pump, overflow and automatic fill. 

Q. How do the waterfall weirs work?

A. Each 24” wide weir has a 1/8” slot that the water flows through creating the waterfall. In addition, there are colored LED lights that color the water from the inside to create a fantastic light show at night.

Q. How is the water kept clean?

A. We installed a large in-line UV light. We check the UV light occasionally and drain and clean the water feature once a year.

SNW. Congratulations, Woody, on the design, making and installation of this calming and peaceful water feature smack dab in the middle of the Seattle scene. And thanks for sharing it with all of us who love stone.
Woody Morris: You bet. Happy to do it.

Verena Schwippert Award

photo of Verena Schwippert taken by Maralyne Powell

Verena was born in Bergkamen, Westphalia, Germany and completed her education in Germany with her B.F.A. degree in Art Education at the University of Hamburg in l973.

After moving to Seattle in l974, she spent a few years living and working in various places as far apart as Barrow, Alaska and Taos, New Mexico.

In l995 Verena settled into her current home in Arlington, Washington, having joined NWSSA two years earlier to become part of our generous and enthusiastic family. She has subsequently served on the NWSSA Board for many years and also has been part of the Snohomish County Arts Commission for 5 years.

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The Animals of Pippa Unwin

THE ANIMALS OF PIPPA UNWIN Polar Bear, Portland Roach Stone by Pippa Unwin

The fact that she loves animals is reflected in her work. It is also evident when looking at her web page at This address as chosen not only because her husband lived near the little rocky island off Plymouth known as the Mewstone, but because it also contains the word Mew, the English onomatopoeia for the cat’s meow.

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Small Town Sculpture Success

by Stuart Jacobson MJ Anderson  

Sculptures have become integral and an important part of Historic Downtown McMinnville, Oregon.  They are valued by the people who live here, and also they are increasingly recognized as an additional tourist draw.  McMinnville was recently named as having one of the best main streets in the US by Parade Magazine. It is in the heart of Oregon’s premier wine growing region in the Willamette Valley, and tourism has become an increasingly important driver of our local economy.

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Al Sieradski’s Talk at the Jacobs Gallery

Al Sieradski’s Talk at the Jacobs Gallery Rhythm Opening Curve In Time, Al Sieradski Italian Portoro Marble with Brass and granite Base

To family and friends here, I offer my thanks for supporting my carving habit. From the rest of you, I ask for a couple of minutes to explain my works in this Rhythm exhibit.

I have just three points I want to make: a What, a Why and a How.

What: What is this stuff? Well, stones! Their main feature is that they endure; each records a slice of the history of the earth. The pieces of alabaster, marble, onyx, and calcite here have their own unique stories, too long-winded to detail now. The quick point is that stone sculpture offers art that is 50 million to over a billion years in the making.

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