JOPLIN, Mo. —
It’s a slow and deliberate process, taking a slab of stone and turning it into a work of art.
It’s also extremely noisy.
As the group of stone carvers began working on their respective projects Wednesday morning, the open garage bay of Joplin artist Jorge Leyva’s studio was filled with blasts of compressed air and the sound of steel against stone as air hammers began chipping away. Some artists had a vision of a finished piece in mind as they began work; others said they were open to changing directions as the stone was carved away.
Abraham Mohler, of St. Louis, was among the latter.
He knew that he wanted to make a standing figure out of the slab of Indiana limestone with which he was working. But what it might look like in three days was anyone’s guess.
“I like to start with a plan so that I have something to abandon as I go in,” he said. “I’ll see things inside the stone that I couldn’t have seen from the outside. I like to have the flexibility to change plans as I go in.”
Mohler was among the group of artists that began working Wednesday at the three-day open studio and demonstration put on at Leyva’s home studio, 1305 E. Vandalia St.
The public may stop by to watch and learn about the craft today and Friday. The event will culminate with a by-invitation-only exhibit on Friday night.
“It’s not a workshop ... it’s more like a symposium,” Leyva said. “It’s about everybody coming together. I’m just offering the space so that we can all share what we do.”
Leyva said that when the event was organized, he wasn’t aware that October is recognized as National Arts & Humanities Month. It was a happy coincidence, he said.
“I thought, ‘How wonderful it will be to tie this in with that so that people can watch the artists working from scratch,’” he said.
Leyva credited the help of Bill Perry, Rebecca Perry, Cathy Bechtel and Julie Welch in organizing the event, which he said he could not have done alone.
Rebecca Perry said the public will have the chance to be exposed to a different medium and learn what goes into the creation of a stone carving.
“They’ll see the talent it takes, the amount of time it takes to create one of these,” she said. “It justifies the price when you can see what goes into it.”
At a table in the center of the open bay, Stacy Deslatte began laying out myriad chisels and a selection of air hammers for artists to use.
The Longview, Texas, resident said she was working as an engineer at a chemical plant in Texas when her father retired and took up wood carving.
“I wanted to do something else, and art is a thing in our family apparently,” Deslatte said. “My sister is a painter. My dad was going to a lot of workshops, and he had a pamphlet for one in Nebraska. I signed up because they had a stone-carving group.”
It was there, she said, that she met Carthage artist Bill Snow, with whom she developed a rapport. After attending several workshops with him, she made a few trips to Missouri to work with him.
“He’s my mentor,” Deslatte said of Snow. “I tell everybody that he taught me everything I know that’s right, and anything that’s wrong I taught myself.”
Near the front of the bay, Trip Vaile studied a block of Carthage stone before using his air hammer to chip away at it. Markings along the sides and back helped to guide him in what he hoped would result in a carving of a vintage Airstream trailer — modeled on one parked nearby.
Vaile, a Carthage native who now lives in Springfield, said he has done a lot of painting and drawing, but stone carving is a relatively new medium for him. The open studio provides a chance to practice his work and learn from others.
“This is new for me,” he said. “But I’m having fun.”
Working at his side Wednesday was his father, Earnie Vaile, who provided the Airstream trailer sitting out with the other vehicles parked near Leyva’s home. He said the event gives him a chance to work alongside his son and learn something about the art of stone carving himself.
“Michelangelo we’re not,” he said with a laugh.
Mohler said the care and effort that goes into stone carving is invisible to the public.
“It offers the public another level of appreciation for what goes into it,” he said.
Stone carving, Mohler said, has become something of an “abandoned” art, which makes the Joplin gathering so much more special.
“The growth curve is too slow, and profit margins are too small,” he said. “And there’s a big gap in education in how to do this.
“So finding a group of artists like this who know how to do it and are sharing in a symposium format is kind of hard to find. This is a jewel.”
SCULPTORS EXHIBITING during the open studio and demonstration include Bill Perry, Cathy Bechtel, Rebecca Perry, Bill Snow, Susan Young, John Siiemers, Randy Wright, Robin Putnam, Julie Welch, Stacy Deslatte, Jorge Leyva, Dawn Fancy, Abraham Mohler and Justin Hale. The public may observe the artists at work and view a selection of completed carvings from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Friday.