Minnesota rocksby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
Artists from around the state, and the world, have gathered in St. Paul to celebrate the most common material on the planet -- rock. Over the next six weeks, a group of master stonecarvers will transform big hunks of Minnesota quarry stone into works of art. The international stonecarving symposium is called "Minnesota Rocks!"
St. Paul, Minn. — On the lawn of St. Paul College, just down the hill from the St. Paul Cathedral, 14 large blocks of stone sit with massive potential. There's Kasota limestone, Morton Gneiss rainbow granite, Winona travertine and Stromatolite.
Each master stonecarver has picked his or her rock, and on the first day of work, St. Paul carver David Wyrick is eager to make a dent in his sculpture. Wyrick says he hopes visitors to the project will gain a new appreciation for stone.
"It seems underappreciated at times for what it is," says Wyrick. "We make our houses out of it. Our buildings, our roads are essentially rock, and it's all around us. But sometimes we forget."
Wyrick is attempting to break an approximately 10-ton square block of dolomitic limestone in half, along a diagonal. He's hoping to create two bookend sculptures, each with a face carved into it.
After drilling holes two-thirds of the way down into the rock, he's trying to split it by hammering on steel wedges and devices called feathers. Two other stonecarvers have joined in to help with what is one of the more exciting moments in stonecarving.
Those two others are from different countries, but despite the language obstacles, the guys manage to communicate.
"Minnesota Rocks!" is hosting six stonecarvers from around Minnesota, and eight from other countries, including Mexico, Italy, Zimbabwe, China, Japan, Germany, Finland and Egypt.
Christine Podas-Larson is president of Public Art St. Paul, which organized the symposium. Podas-Larson says while she's been touting the event as an opportunity for cultural exchange for the past four years, she hadn't realized what she was talking about until she saw it in action.
"If you could have seen this morning the Ojibwe artist Dwayne Goodwin trying to work with the artist from China, who speaks nothing but Chinese. But they managed -- standing over a big piece of limestone -- to make themselves understood to one another, because they understood the qualities of the stone," Podas Larson says. Despite their different origins, Podas-Larson says all of the carvers share a deep reverence for the stone.
"They all have a common understanding of it as a living material," she says. "There is almost a spiritual allure of rock and stone that people take so seriously."
Podas-Larson says they've been lucky to have all the stone donated from Minnesota quarries. She says many Minnesotans don't realize that the state's mineral industry is as big as agriculture.
Podas-Larson says the limestone and granite of the state is prized all over the country. It's been used in many of the monuments and museums on the National Mall in Washington.
"Even in South Dakota, a whole big part of the Mount Rushmore monument is actually Minnesota stone," says Podas-Larson. "The faces may be carved out of the side of that hill, but the buildings and things around there are made out of Minnesota stone."
Back at David Wyrick's workspace, the limestone is testing his patience. The wedges are not working as planned.
"We're going to make a relief cut to help it along, to guide it a little bit better," says Wyrick, "because the rock is stratified, and so it wants to break along the stratifications, perpendicular to where we want it to break, and so we have to persuade it to go the other way."
Wyrick makes two long gouges on either end of the rock, where he wants it to crack. Then he and his colleagues continue to pound away at the steel wedges.
Suddenly, Wyrick hears the sound he's been waiting for -- or so he thinks.
The rock did break -- just not where he wanted it to. A huge chunk of the limestone is no longer going to be a part of the sculpture.
Despite the setback, Wyrick is thrilled to be a part of the symposium.
"I can't think of any other situation where I'd get to meet these artists otherwise, and to share the experience I have with stone, and they share the experience they have with stone," says Wyrick.
He jokes about what he hopes to see by the end of the six weeks. "That stone split in two would be nice; that would be a nice one."
When the 14 sculptures are completed, they will become public works of art. One will go to Vadnais Heights, another to St. Anthony Park. The rest will be spread throughout the city of St. Paul, to serve as a reminder of the beauty of Minnesota's natural resources. They have already laid the foundation for some new friendships.
The Stone Symposium is open to the public from noon to 8 p.m. daily, until it ends on June 30.
- All Things Considered, 05/23/2006, 6:23 p.m.