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Wiki-Up Wanderings - July/Aug 2002


In June 1, we brought ‘The Big One’ home. I figured I had done all of the major grinding and shaping and was down to details and final finishing. The house was no longer in “dust danger”. My yard works fine for that, and with all of the hoopla of summer vacation and kids home, I want to be here and would probably not get down to the studio on a regular basis. I will miss the sights, sounds and smells of the group studio, so will visit on occasion to see what everyone is up to. With help from Phil and Frances, we loaded and transported my now 450 lb. stone, again using farmboy physics.

The Story of The Big One

Once upon a time, there was a mama polar bear who came upon a small Eskimo child. The child was lost, cold, alone and frightened, but did not know to be frightened of the big white warm bear.

The bear enveloped the child in her warm body heat and soft fur and the child, relaxed, warmed and trusting, fell asleep, cuddled on the bear’s haunch. The child is oblivious to the apparent danger of being with such a large carnivorous critter. The bear, however, is on full alert, head back, nose up, sniffing the air for the scent of danger. She knows that this child does not belong with her. She knows that if she is caught with the child, her life will be endangered. She will be killed, most likely, in her attempt to return the child to other humans. She also knows that she cannot keep the child with her. She cannot keep it warm, safe, and fed in the world she lives in.

This is the tension/dilemma of the piece. What should she do? I call it “Scent of Man”.

As with most of my work, the subject matter relates to my life. I do this unconsciously, and only figure out the connection as the piece develops. My son just graduated from high school. And so, at 18 and off to college in the fall, he no longer belongs with me, but I am not ready to send him out into the world either where he may not be safe

I am going to rough finish the edges of the parka, polish the face, and leave the bear a matte finish. There are areas of unfinished, untouched, stone left alone just as it was quarried and weathered over the years. The piece is basically triangular and these untouched areas are on all sides, showing I used the stone to its outer limits in all directions.

This project with all of its fits and starts has been within my mind’s focus for a year now. I contrast that to the soapstone walrus I started and finished in two afternoons on a rainy May weekend. That little project lifted my spirits immeasurably, but briefly. The long term project, when finished, will have a lasting satisfaction.

People remain quiet when they look at it, and I still don’t know if that is because they don’t understand it, don’t like it, or don’t know what to say. At this point, other people’s reactions are less significant to me. I know what it is all about, and it speaks to me. Maybe that is all we should ask for sometimes.

And now, as I close out my year of writing for the newsletter, I thank NWSSA for this opportunity to express my “stone soul”. I know that the next carver who takes my spot will reveal new and inspiring aspects of this art. It has been great fun.


Stone Queries - July/Aug 2002



Q: What is quarry sap?In the book, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo is said to have draped the David marble in damp cloth after every carving session. What was he doing?


A: While I wouldn’t begin to question Michelangelo’s approach, I strongly suspect that description is more artistic license of the author than artistic technique of the sculptor.  Damp cloth draping is essential when modeling in clay but as far as I can determine of little or no value in marble.

All stone contains varying amounts of moisture, or pore water, when freshly quarried.  In English-speaking countries this moisture is usually called “quarry sap” and almost always stoneworkers claim that freshly quarried stone carves more easily than stone that has dried out.  Often it is further claimed that once a stone has dried out, even immersing it in water will not restore it to its original easily-carved condition.  The marble block used for David was quarried, partially carved, then abandoned for many years before Michelangelo started carving it.

I have carved some limestones and sandstones that soften when wetted, but these have a porosity of up to 30% and contain clay as well. Marble typically contains less than 1% moisture by weight, and many marbles from the Carrara area contain less than 0.1%.  As a block of marble dries out, the calcium carbonate in the pore water would precipitate along the crystal boundaries, but would that be enough to affect carving or prevent later water penetration?  And yet something can happen.  I have seen a block of statuario marble that changed from solid stone to a sugary, crumbly mass after sitting outside a Pietrasanta studio for a year.  I am still looking for any scientific studies that confirm the lore or document precisely the physical and chemical changes occurring with loss of pore water that would affect carving.

I have been warned to avoid unscrupulous stone dealers selling old dry blocks to sculptors who don’t know any better.  But how quickly does a block dry out?  Not many of us have the luxury of plucking a block from the quarry face as soon as it’s extracted, so I have stopped worrying about stone freshness.

So what was Michelangelo doing?  Was he even doing it?  The only contemporary reference I have been able to check so far is Vasari’s, The Lives of the Artists and he does not mention damp cloth draping.  Or did Michelangelo know something about stone that I don’t?  You bet he did!  But was this it?

Feel free to contact me: Ron Geitgey, (503) 235-3474, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Stone Queries - May/June 2002


Q: I would like to carve some pieces to place in my garden.  What types of stone can be placed outside?

A: Depending on your garden and your expectations, nearly every sculptural stone can be placed outside.  But note the qualifications at the beginning of that sentence.  The reaction of various stone to the environment can include dissolution, loss of high polish and fine detail, bleaching by sunlight, iron staining (rust), algae growth, staining by waterborne chemicals, and disintegration caused by crystallization and expansion of salts and ice within the stone.

Moisture is the single most detrimental factor, whether from rainwater which is naturally slightly acidic, soil moisture wicking upward from the ground, or sprinkling systems repeatedly dowsing the sculpture.

Alabaster (gypsum) and anhydrite are soluble but they can last longer than you may think.   I have had an alabaster piece exposed outside in Portland weather for about three years with very little effect. (Dissolution does suggest artistic possibilities, however.  I recall some fascinating transformations as ice sculptures slowly melted at Camp Brotherhood a few years ago.)  Marble and limestone will dissolve so slowly that the only effect you may see in your lifetime is dulling of a high polish.

Soapstone, although soft, is very stable chemically.  It has been used for centuries as a durable building stone throughout Scandinavia, but it may contain pyrite, which can cause iron staining.

Stone porosity, including holes in travertine, spaces between grains in sedimentary rocks (e.g., sandstone, limestone), or fractures in any rock type, can be an important factor.  If a stone can soak up moisture it can also soak up gardening and lawn care chemicals resulting in white coatings on the sculpture surface and possibly providing additional nutrients for algae.  But then again, what are your expectations?  I have a piece carved of porous volcanic tuff, sitting directly on the ground.  In the dry summer it’s bright yellow and red, but lush green all winter when it’s wet.  It’s a sculpture for all seasons.

Granite and basalt are very durable although some contain reactive iron-bearing minerals.  Many sandstones, limestones, and marbles are good choices, especially if they won’t be water saturated.  Avoid black marble and limestone since they quickly bleach or develop white coatings.

If you want to minimize the effects of wicking, isolate the sculpture from soil moisture using concrete or stone pads, bases, or pedestals.  Finally, there are numerous products available for sealing or impregnating stone to minimize water absorption.  I have only limited experience with these so here is an invitation to someone more knowledgeable than I to write a column. Feel free to contact me: Ron Geitgey, (503) 235-3474, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..