Casting and Carving Cement Stones | A Post-Funky Tiki Owl Sculpture
Casting the First Stone
Twinges of misgiving came only hours before attending the first session. My husband had talked me into taking the "cast-stone sculpture class", sponsored by the local Arts Council, on the premise that we got a discount with couples signing up. I must admit that my curiosity at seeing who might be good enough to "cast the first stone" got me to agree.
My husband is an artist. He does beautiful wood carvings, watercolors, pen drawings and has worked in many media. I,on the other hand, had carved a plaster tiki god once in high school that had a strange look on it's face. As tiki gods go.. he is probably one that people would be reluctant to pray to, for fear of being laughed at by island natives.
The Final Result
Choosing the subject
"What are you going to carve," my husband asked (as I knew he would) . "An owl. " I said foolishly, with the full knowledge that he has carved scores of beautiful birds. At this point I knew I should have said "Banana Slug"."What kind of owl," he further inquired. The question reminded me that there are dozens of species of owl... and only one kind of Banana Slug."A Generic Owl", I said... "No specific kind... just a symbolic impressionistic or post expressionist art nouveau type of thing." I said trying to sound like I knew what I had in mind and hoping it wouldn't come out looking too much like that tiki.A short time later we met the other students surrounded by flowers in a lovely garden on the property of a local antique shop. The art teacher was unloading 90 lb bags of concrete mix from the back of her pickup. We were mostly strangers, who would soon get to know each other by experience trials much as the groups who come together to play "Survivor". Thankfully, there would be no voting.The teacher, explained what we were would mix cement, garden pearlite, sand and water, into an oatmeal kind of consistency and pour it into cardboard box molds to make our "stones". With an explanation she hoped would not be too technical, she clarified that if it went "splash " when we poured it, it was probably too thin, and if it went "plop"it was about right. She talked about the possibilities of the medium, then gave us all a lump of clay so we could make a model of what we wanted our stone carving to look like.
Day two: The Sculpting.
The next morning we were again in the garden covered with cement dust from head to toe, wearing masks and goggles to protect us from the dust ( or, in my case, to conceal my true identity as a novice).
Various sizes of cardboard boxes reinforced with tape and bungie cords were dispersed over tables giving the whole garden the appearance of a hobo camp, as the teacher observed.
But here were were working with shovels and hoes, sand , mud and water, maybe not too much different than the makeshift camps of forty-niners who once sluiced the nearby creek bed for the elusive flakes and nuggets of the Mother Lode. Had they been there, they might have recognized us, and thought our activity familiar, though wondering why we were carefully hoarding the sandy mud instead of panning it out.
The curious outsiders who did wander into the garden didn't question why this assortment of people, artists in various stages of development, were standing around boxes full of concrete mixture in hopeful anticipation of the time they would strip away the cardboard and reveal box shaped pieces of concrete with a sense of awe and accomplishment.
A couple of hours of setting up time were required, and as the cardboard molds began to be removed, we were soon stroking the damp gritty lumps tenderly, shaping them with tools and bare hands until our fingerprints began to disappear.
It seems that I seldom do anything that lasts for long. Daily necessarily daily things like laundry, grocery shopping and cooking are not memorable and need to be done over and over. Unlike the spaghetti and meatballs I made last month, which is gone and forgotten, a two foot tall stone owl is going to last awhile, possibly to the regret of many.
The resulting owl sculpture, I would say, is not so much post-impresionist as post-funky, with a little tiki look around the eyes. It will never appear in an art museum, but it's my owl and I made it. So far, it has endured a lot longer than the spaghetti and meatballs, though I probably should check the fridge.
***As an odd footnote: A few years after this, I learned a lot more about owls when I published a children's book based on photos of a tiny Saw-Whet Owl, photographed by my friend, Linda Gast. Another hub tells some of that story.