By RUSSELL JONES
The hidden gem that is The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center of West Rutland may never have existed if not for a convergence of the rich history of marble workers in the area, a disaster of epic proportions and a beautiful Italian community of artisans.
“I finally found a group of sculptors working together in a material, in an environment that totally supported what they loved,” said B. Amore, 64, an artist and long-time teacher at the Boston Museum School. She had spent time with a group of Italian sculptors in 1980, and it was there that the seed of what turned out to become The Carving Studio first sprouted.
“I took so many photographs, which I immediately showed to my students as soon as I was back to teaching,” she said in a recent interview.
Amore said that even that first time in Carrara, Italy in 1980, she started to think, “How can I bring something like this back to Boston?”
As that idea lingered in the back of her head, Amore continued teaching and returned to Italy several times. In 1985, she secured a deal with the Nicoli studio in Carrara that would allow her to bring a group of students the following year for three weeks.
On April 25, 1986, mere weeks before Amore and her 12 students were set to leave for Italy, the nuclear plant in Chernobyl exploded. The disaster sent nuclear radiation sweeping across northern Europe. Worried, Amore called the U.S. State Department.
“I called the State Department here several times, ‘Italy,’ they said, ‘No problem.’ I called Italy and they said, ‘there’s no fresh fruit and vegetables, there’s no dairy food, the fish are dying in the ponds.’”
She knew she could not subject her students to that kind of environment and ended up talking to shop foreman of the Vermont Marble Company Bob Blackwood. The two hit it off and very quickly Amore had arranged for her students to spend three weeks carving stone in Proctor where for ages marble had been quarried to build monuments and buildings around the country such as the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the time, the company was still open and fully operational and her students worked amid the regular workers. Amore spent several summers bringing students for several weeks to carve marble, when one year she decided she didn’t want to leave.
And so, The Carving Studio was started.
In the end, the studio was moved to West Rutland because she could not get a guarantee for year-round use of a building from the Vermont Marble Company in Proctor. Now, The Carving Studio instructs students year round in the art of marble sculpting at an abandoned site that was also once owned by Vermont Marble Company.
The year-round instruction includes two- and five-day workshops, college and high school sculpture classes, artist residencies, lectures and exhibitions. Ongoing exchange programs with organizations in Peru and Kenya provide a global perspective.
On May 18 and 19, the studio held workshops on letter carving and sculpting bas-relief in marble. During the workshops, student artists get hands-on one-on-one tutoring from the workshop instructors.
“The side-to-side motion, that’s the energy you’re bringing to the work,” Kerry O. Furlani told several students as she showed them the techniques of letter carving, as dust from the stone lingered in the air. “Use that energy and transfer it to the slate.”
For two full days, the students used a hammer and chisel to chink and chip small pieces of stone away.
“The hand tools make little striations in the stone with every swing of the hammer,” Furlani said. “Those little striations tell you that the work was done by hand. A machine can’t recreate those.”
The director of the studio, Carol Driscoll, said the studio is a non-profit that is funded through donations and class fees. Soon, they will have to look for new sources of income since several local colleges have announced closings.
“Our college classes were with a partnership with Green Mountain College and the College of St. Joseph,” Driscoll said. “Now that those colleges have announced they are closing we are looking into other opportunities.”
College classes aside, the history of marble sculpting and carving in stone harken back to days of hard manual labor performed mostly by immigrants who helped build not only Vermont, but America, and of course of more ancient times when such art was popularized by the Romans and Greeks — truly an art form for the ages, and one that still resonates today.