Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sculpting the Future

A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.
--Chinese proverb

I recently was asked to mentor a student at the local Waldorf school. For her 8th grade project, Autumn wants to sculpt a dragon in stone. I was happy and honored to accept.

It’s been a while since I’ve wielded mallet and chisel. Some of you may remember that last summer I was working on a Solstice Stone, that I hoped to have ready for yesterday’s Summer Solstice. The project was put on hold when I decided to throw all my energy into finishing Fiesta of Smoke. The stone has lain outside on my outdoor sculpture stand all winter.

I invited Autumn and her mother to come up to Big Hill, to assess my talents as a mentor. I have to demonstrate more than beginning skills in the subject and then, be approved by the teacher. Even though my masters degree is in art and writing, I could see where the teacher might look askance at my qualifications, since painting was my emphasis, with sculpting a pale third, behind printmaking. 

So I dragged out all the evidence: preliminary drawings in dusty notebooks, small clay maquettes, larger maquettes carved in plaster of Paris, and then, final products in marble, granite, slate, wood and bronze. I went at my sculpture stand with a broom and removed a good 4 inches of dead leaves. I brought out my mallets, hammers, chisels and rasps. I was just searching for a rake, to have the area nice and tidy, when mother and daughter arrived. 

I toured them around, from the smallest, humblest clay maquette, to the 9-foot steel armature for a  bird-headed goddess that is sitting lopsided in the yard, awaiting a stone base. I explained one complete development of an idea, the image of a seed, from sketch through drawing to maquette and finally, marble sculpture. I encouraged Autumn to follow such a discipline with her developing dragon image.

I set a piece of local shale in front of Autumn and told her to have at it, using the tools I’d piled up. Her mother and I went off to talk and came back 45 minutes later to discover that Autumn had begun creating a wonderful design in low relief that was well suited to the soft and crumbly stone. It was also clear that she didn’t want to stop carving, even though her mother needed to leave.

I sent Autumn home with the stone, a hammer and two chisels. That she is a naturally gifted sculptor is evident. I expect great things from her. As she was leaving, she asked how she would choose a piece of alabaster to work on, at the stone yard. “Let the stone  speak to you,” I said. “You’ll look at dozens of pieces, but one will call out to you.” I haven’t seen her since. She and her family have gone on vacation where, presumably, she will get a chance to choose her stone.

What a gift it is, to see that child’s enthusiasm and native talent! I feel that with every blow of the carving hammer she is sculpting a future for herself that is exciting and filled with anticipation, imagination, force of will and patient follow-through. This child is no piece of marked paper--she is durable as hammered stone.

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