Event Booking
Web Links
News Feeds
Search - K2

Thoughts & Opinions

Psychoanalysis and Stone Carving - Sept/Oct 2003

“The great virtue of stone is that unlike other hard materials it seems to have a luminous life, light, or soul.”- Adrian Stokes, Stones of Rimini, 1934

July 2003. Psychoanalysis has always been interested in the creativity and the arts, but recently the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study, one of the organizations in Seattle’s lively and creative psychoanalytic community, has embarked on a more intensive exploration of the interconnections between psychoanalysis and the arts. We are interested not in psychoanalyzing the artist or explaining away the meaning of a work of art, but rather in the creative process itself as it works both in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis and in the arts, and in the way the arts can foster a rich and meaningful engagement with emotion-laden issues.

As a new stone carver with a lifelong interest in the psychology of the creative process, I have been eager to reflect on stone carving from this point of view. Talking to my psychotherapist and psychoanalyst colleagues, I find not only that some of them are already carvers themselves but also that many others have long harbored a fantasy of learning to carve someday. And so the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study will be sponsoring an introductory workshop on stone carving (hand tools and soft stone) for its members in January 2004, where we can talk about the connections between psychotherapy and stone carving on the basis of direct experience.

The following essay was written to contribute to this dialogue with my psychoanalytic colleagues. I think it will be of interest to stone carvers as well. It is an attempt to reflect on the analogies between carving and the psychoanalytic process, and on the inner meanings of the activity of carving. It draws on the work of Adrian Stokes (1902-1961), an English painter, poet and writer on the arts, a writer who is deeply knowledgeable about both the arts and psychoanalysis.

Blind Native American sculptor Michael Naranjo was given permission by the Pope to touch, indeed climb on, Michelangelo’s gigantic marble statue of Moses. A documentary film shows him exploring the curves of Moses’ body and face with his hands, and on a later journey running his fingertips over the nose and around the eyes of Michelangelo’s statue of David and resting them on David’s lips as though listening. The marble has taken on the living quality of flesh, he says.

All of us who have run our hands over stones have, I think, an intuition of how stone can feel organic, like flesh. This is part of the reason so many of us harbor a secret fantasy of working in stone. Adrian Stokes’ conception of carving articulates the way stone can become like a living body.

Stokes grew up in England and as a young man traveled across the Alps to Italy. What he saw in Italy was an evenly lit landscape of luminous limestone architecture. (Limestone is rock sedimented from the sea; marble is a form of limestone.) The contrast between this vision of Italy and the gloom of England was Stokes’ fundamental aesthetic intuition. He elaborated this intuition in a series of books on art and architecture, including The Quattro Cento and Stones of Rimini. In the 1930s he was in psychoanalysis with Melanie Klein for a number of years and afterwards used an implicit psychoanalytic framework to articulate his aesthetic ideas. Although not a clinician himself, Stokes was a member of the Imago group in London, a group of analysts and non-analysts who met to use psychoanalytic ideas to illuminate non-clinical dimensions of life.

Stokes made the distinction between carving and modeling a key theme in his writings on the arts. His distinction is simple. Carving cuts away; modeling builds up. Of course art uses both processes, but Stokes is particularly interested in exploring the meaning of carving. Carving, he says, involves enlivening the medium one is using, whereas in modeling the medium is no more than “suitable stuff”: “A figure carved in stone is fine carving when one feels that not the figure, but the stone through the medium of the figure, has come to life.”

Stone is the preeminent material for carving. Not even primarily for its durability, says Stokes, but rather for its translucent (rather than reflective) quality: “I am thinking of the equal diffusion of light that, compared to most objects, even the hardest and darkest stones possess; I am thinking of hand-polished marble’s glow that can only be compared to the light on flesh-and-blood.” This inherent luminescence is for Stokes one symbol of life.

Carving as Stokes conceives it is essentially an interaction both psychic and sensory between sculptor and stone. The stone is the mother’s body that the baby explores and the lover caresses; the stone is the matrix of mind into which the psyche projects: “The sculptor is led to woo the marble. Into the solidity of stone, a solidity yet capable of suffused light, the fantasies of bodily vigor, or energy in every form, can be projected, set out and made permanent.” The interaction is ongoing; if the fantasies enliven the stone, the stone’s evolving form elicits a further elaboration of the fantasies.

From the imaginative point of view, the motion of carving is not so much a cutting as a rubbing, a stroking: “It will readily be understood that in the carving of stone’s hard, luminous substance, it suffers all the stroking and polishing, all the definition that our hands and mouths bestow on those we love.” Michael Naranjo’s fingers exploring the face of Michelangelo’s David evokes the infant’s exploration of the mother’s face. If mobility is another indicator of aliveness, then the motions of the sculptor’s, or the baby’s, or the lover’s hand, help to endow the stone, the mother’s face, the body caressed, with aliveness.

For Stokes, the primordial Mediterranean art is stone architecture; the stone provides a house, a shelter, a container. Stone for the sculptor, says Stokes, is a matrix. “Just as the cultivator works the surfaces of the mother earth so the sculptor rubs his stone to elicit the shapes which his eye has sown in the matrix.” He asserts that the matrix must remain implicitly present in the sculpted form: “The carved form should never, in any profound imaginative sense, be entirely freed from its matrix” because “carving is an articulation of something that already exists in the block.”

How does the metaphor of “sowing,” which, psychologically considered, is an image of projection, accord with the idea that carving regards and enlivens the inherent nature of its medium? Here we are in the realm of images for generativity. At the end of Aeschylus’ Oresteia the goddess Athene argues that the child is not related to the mother because she is merely the field in which the seed has been sown! The metaphor of sowing in a field is perhaps not the best one to articulate the inherent resonance of what is implicit in the matrix and what is projected by the wooer.

A more suggestive image, to my mind, is that of unfurling, similar to the development of an embryo and eventual birth from the womb. Stokes notes that softer stones like marble tend to be carved away to greater thinness than harder stones and such figures suggest the unfurling of something that has been folded up inside the matrix:

“Their curves . . . will be more capable of a varied palpitation in their defining of forms. Such definition of form by whittling and polishing marble, so that in representational art the figures themselves tend to be flattened or compressed, as if they had long been furled amid the interior layers of the stone and now were unburdened on the air, were smoothing the air, such thinness of shape appears to me to be the essential manner of much stone carving.”

What is so fascinating to me in this image is the notion of something coming to light - its own light - and into the air, bearing the form of a collaborative process whereby both stone and hand play the role of mind. I recently visited the Musée

Rodin in Paris, where many of the sculptures are visibly sheltered by the marble matrix from which they have emerged. But the carving that struck me most was one done late in Rodin’s life, a sculpture of two hands emerging from the stone matrix. The title of this piece is “The Secret.”

All quotations are from the excerpts from Stones of Rimini in The Image in Form: Selected Writings of Adrian Stokes, edited by Richard Wollheim (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), pp. 150-4.

The video, “Michael Naranjo: A New Vision” shown on KNME, Albuquerque, NM, in l996, can be ordered from New Mexico PBS by calling: (800) 328-5663.

Shierry Nicholsen is a new stone carver, taking classes with Sabah Al-Daher at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. She was inspired by Inuit carving and by the work of her old friend Karl Hufbauer. She enrolled in Sabah’s class after a dream in which her college boy friend, who became a geologist, presented her with a set of carving tools for her birthday. Shierry is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in Seattle and the author of The Love of Nature and the End of the World: The Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental Concern (MIT Press, 2002).


Crazy Horse and Crazy Dreamer - Sept/Oct 2003


Sculpture Northwest obtained Mr. Joseph’s permission to reprint this article here as it appeared in The Elks Magazine, July/August 2003.

On September 6, 1877, under a flag of truce, a United States soldier killed the great Lakota chief Crazy Horse by ramming a bayonet numerous times into his side and finally into his back. Crazy Horse’s crime was helping to defeat George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In Boston, on September 6, l908, the mountain sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski was born to Polish immigrant parents. It’s intriguing that 31 years to the day separate Crazy Horse’s death and Korczak Ziolkowski’s birth because the two will be together in pegmatite granite for millennia to come. Until the age of eighteen, Crazy Horse’s name was Curly. While his people thought he was strange because he spent so much time alone, they also believed he had magical powers. His father, a medicine man, went by the name of Crazy Horse. For the Sioux, the word “crazy” implied a mad love for something, especially of one’s people.

Curly’s mysticism so pleased his father that one evening he called the tribe together. Korczak Ziolkowski narrated what Crazy Horse said at this meeting in the following way, “You all know I have two sons and one daughter, and one son you know as Curly. I am very proud of Curly. I cannot give him anything, but I am so proud of him I want to give him myself. From today on I will be known as Worm and my son will be known as Crazy Horse.”

Whenever Korczak told this story his eyes would fill with tears. As a foster child he had not known a father’s love, and this act of giving by Crazy Horse’s father moved him deeply.

Raised in a series of foster homes after his parents died in a boating accident before he was a year old, Korczak was ultimately raised by an Irish prizefighter. The relationship between Korczak and his keeper was rocky, and Korczak vowed to exchange blows with him when he turned 16. Korczak did eventually fight the boxer, but he lost the battle and subsequently left home to work on the waterfront.

Three years earlier, while still living at home, Korczak had read a magazine article that fired his imagination. The piece was about the famous mountain sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who would eventually carve Mount Rushmore.

Inspired by what he had read about Borglum, Korczak taught himself the art of sculpture. Even though he had no formal training, he won first prize at the l939 New York World’s Fair for his marble portrait of Paderewski the Polish pianist and statesman. After winning the award, Ziolkowski continued to work with stone and wood, and his talent earned him critical acclaim.

Korczak Ziolkowski first saw the Black Hills of South Dakota when he was invited to work with Borglum at Mount Rushmore in l939. Although he worked with Borglum only a short time, Korczak learned a great deal from him that was invaluable in his future career as a mountain sculptor.

In the l930s, Chief Henry Standing Bear, a Brule Indian, watched Mount Rushmore being carved. In l939 he eventually wrote Korczak a letter stating, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”

The chief visited Korczak at West Hartford, Connecticut, in l941 and again invited the sculptor to honor Crazy Horse in stone. Five years later after returning from WWII, Korczak agreed to do so in a mountain 17 miles from Mount Rushmore.

Korczak returned to the Black Hills on May 32, l947, to begin his work. Although he had only $l74 in his pocket, he decided not only to carve Crazy Horse’s face, but to also sculpt a three-dimensional monument of him upon a horse.

According to Korczak’s plans, the finished colossus would be 563 feet high (taller than the highest pyramid in Egypt) and 641 feet long, making it longer that two football fields placed end to end. When completed, Crazy Horse would be the largest sculpture ever.

Crazy Horse once said, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” Korczak wanted his monument to the remarkable chief to show Crazy Horse seated on his steed pointing to the sacred lands of the Lakota. Korczak’s original scale model of the finished mountain was small, but he eventually created a much larger representation that stands 20 feet and weighs 16 tons.

At first Korczak used a series of ropes to reach the top of the mountain, but later constructed 741 step wooden stair case to make the climb easier. He then built a 2,040 foot pipeline for his 24 year old air compressor, a machine that allowed him to drill dynamite holes more easily. The compressor often conked out when Korczak was on the top of the mountain, which meant he would have to go back down the 741 step wooden staircase to restart it. One day he had to make the trip down and back up the mountain nine times.

A picture of Korczak taken just after he started the project shows him standing at the top of Crazy Horse Mountain with his shirt off, wearing a cowboy hat. He has a chisel in one hand and a small sledgehammer in the other: a 20th century Don Quixote chipping away at a granite windmill taller than the Washington Monument.

Throughout his life, Korczak often spoke about his commitment to his dream: “The world asks you one question, only one. The world asks you, ‘did you do the job?’ And in my book, there is only one answer, ‘Yes!’ You don’t answer, ‘I would have done the job if I had the money...I would have done the job if people had been sympathetic or understood what I was trying to do...I would have done the job if I hadn’t gotten hurt or crippled.’ And God knows I have been crippled.

You don’t even say, ‘I would have done the job if I hadn’t died’ I don’t buy it. There is only one answer, ‘Yes!’”

By the time he died in October l982 at the age of 74, Korczak had blasted several million tons of granite from the mountain to block out a rough outline of the gigantic monument. After Korczak’s death, his family placed his remains in a tomb Korczak and his sons had carved in an outcropping in front of Crazy Horse Mountain.

Even with his passing, Korczak’s dream is becoming a reality. His large family—he and his spouse, Ruth, had ten children—continues to work on the mountain. The Ziolkowski family completed Crazy Horse’s face in l998 and dedicated it on June 3 of that year, exactly 50 years after Korczak detonated the first dynamite charge that blew away what now seems like a paltry ten tons of rock from the top of the mountain.

Work has begun on the horse’s head, which will stand 219 feet high, and will be nearly four times the size of Crazy Horse’s face. At present there is no time frame for finishing the mountain sculpture because its completion depends on funding and weather conditions. And the project is much more than the mountain.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a nonprofit educational and cultural project. It receives absolutely no federal funding. The Indian Museum of North America, which contains thousands of artifacts, is already open in the visitors receiving area, and there are plans to build near the mountain a University and Medical Training Center for the North American Indians. The Crazy Horse Memorial, and the entire complex surrounding it, honors all of the North American Indian tribes.


Carving a Road to De Stenen Poort - July/Aug 2003


Coming from a Midwest background where the boundaries of male familiarity extend to a handshake or a pat on the shoulder, not even the group hugs at Camp Brotherhood prepared me for the bear hug embrace and repeated cheek kissing of an impressively sized male speaking rapidly in Spanish my first day at De Stenen Poort, a stone carving symposium in the Netherlands. This expression of appreciation on Sergio’s part was sparked by my pantomimed offer to give him one of two adapters I had machined in order to make my tools compatible with the #14 metric spindle, standard in that part of Europe.

This trip to participate in De Stenen Poort, held biennially at Borkel en Schaft, a small pastoral village near Eindhoven in the Netherlands, in some ways was a result of the very positive experience I had at Camp Brotherhood several years earlier. The sense of support and camaraderie, the exchange of ideas and information, fed an interest to see what other carvers around the country were doing. The following year, I loaded up the pickup for every contingency I could foresee and headed across four states into the Colorado Rockies to attend Marble/ Marble.

Setting up my carving site, I noticed another participant smoking a lonely cigarette, huddled under a tree, trying to keep dry. I introduced myself and asked if I could offer any assistance.  Fortunately, his English was better than my Dutch and we managed to construct two shelters with some spare material I had packed along (the planning had paid off). In the days that followed, Jan and I got to know each other and he suggested I should apply for a symposium held near his home in the Netherlands. The idea intrigued me and when I returned home, Jan and I exchanged e-mails and information. Just short of a year later, I found myself driving a rental car from Brussels, looking for the small village of Borkel en Schaft.

Participation in De Stenen Poort, like most international symposia, is juried and provides no formal training. The participants are expected to produce at least one finished piece by the end of the 10-day carving session to sell in the week long show that follows.  Attendance for the show attracts 15,000 to 20,000 people and usually 75 to 80 percent of the sculptures are sold. Volunteers guide visitors through the carving sight, answering any questions. Media coverage and advertising are broad and well coordinated. Sales are handled by the symposium: 20% of the sale price is retained by the sponsors to cover costs, 80% goes to the artist. Food, lodging, stone, electricity and water are provided to participants. Travel expenses are not covered.

I was able to finish two pieces during my stay, one in a warm Spanish marble, the other in Belgium black marble, both of which sold.

Attending the symposium is certainly rewarding from a carving standpoint. In a concentrated period one has the opportunity to broaden artistic and technical skills, and the chance to carve under positive pressure. Sharing ideas and witnessing the creativity of my fellow carvers was amazing. But it is the intangible qualities that drive me to seek out other international symposia: the friendships made across cultural lines, the friendship and warmth of the volunteers, the opportunity to experience viewpoints beyond my own, and to gain more than a superficial insight into another country.  

As I reclined in the chair of an outdoor cafe on a gray cobbled boulevard one late spring afternoon, mug of beer in hand, listening to old men swap stories in another language, I felt completely at home. Carving here had brought me one step closer to the realization that, maybe, we are not so different after all.

Some points to remember:


  • United States power is 110 volts, 60 cycles. Europe is 220 volts, 50 cycles.
  • All measurements and threads are metric.
  • Carefully read the terms of the symposium for which you are applying, i.e. is money for travel expenses supplied?
  • Who retains ownership of the finished product if a city or local municipality is the sponsoring entity?
  • Often a sketch or maquette of your proposed project is required.


Web sites