Carved Creations

Building Stone Magazine, Fall 2007 – A Publication of Building Stone Institute

Written By: Stephanie Aurora Lewis

Gardens, parks, town centers and plazas are important to a city’s infrastructure. They create an environment that is suitable – and often even inspirational – for social interaction. The imagery of natural stone and its ability to endure in outdoor conditions for hundreds of years makes it an ideal material for these place-making features such as monuments, fountains, benches and sculptures. The stone carvers who create these sculpted pieces exhibit true handicraft as defined by William Morris during the Arts and Crafts Movement in England at the end of the 19th century.

Outdoor Sculpture

In Chicago, the Millennium Monument elegantly marks the end of a tree-lined Wrigley Square lawn space in Millennium Park. Similar to Central Park in New York City, the lawn was designed as an inviting space for visitors to relax and to stroll along adjacent walking paths. The beautiful, 40-foot-tall Peristyle monument is composed of Doric columns and includes inscriptions by the founders of Millennium Park in its base. Bybee Stone Company Inc. of Bloomington, Ind., carved the monument out of Indiana limestone.

California features a fountain so stunning that the prince of Saudi Arabia once asked the designer and carver – Bakerfield’s House of Stone, Inc. – if the fountain could be disassembled and shipped to his country. Amazed at this request, House of Stone’s owner Eric Dobbs advised the prince that the weight and size of the fountain (60 feet in circumference) would make air travel difficult and expensive. Still persistent, the prince requested an actual cost estimate for the fountain’s transport. When the figure came in at more than $185,000, the prince decided instead to purchase the fountain’s eight-page set of plans so that he could have it replicated in Saudi Arabia.

House of Stone also creates fountains for the bold Las Vegas strip – a place well known for outstanding outdoor sculpture. Dobbs states that a hand-carved fountain of natural stone, accented with a water and light show, is so visually stunning that it actually competes with the excitement of Las Vegas. House of Stone Inc. is completing much of the stone carving currently in progress for The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.

Natural Stone for Outdoor Installations

Understanding natural stone is a science and an art. Robert Ripley of Carved Stone Creations from Kaukauna, WI, extensively researches different qualities of natural stone and what happens to these natural stones when installed outdoors. He reports that the greatest amount of detail can be created with marble, a material that can showcase subtleties of fabric and specific features, such as hair, on a sculpture. Granite, Ripley explains, has a tendency to chip off more easily during the carving process, making small details more difficult to highlight. Ripley describes the difference between carving in marble and granite like the difference between using clay and wet beach sand for a creation.

Marble is not often highly recommended for outdoor locations, however, because of the damage that can occur to the stone from freeze/thaw cycles. If marble is used outdoors, it needs to be sealed in the fall during the dry season so that moisture penetration does not occur during the winter and spring seasons. Though it seems insignificant, moisture can penetrate into marble’s microscopic veins and cause significant damage if it starts to expand during a freezing bout. Additionally, minerals in marble fade over time from ultraviolet rays breaking down their colors. When marble is used outdoors, it will weather and consequently show a patina quality – a color some find very beautiful.

Conversely, granite is an idyllic material for sculptures located outside; it will endure the elements twice as long as marble. Granite also is the most resistant to freeze/thaw cycles because its moisture absorption rate is between 1 percent and 3 percent [Correction: the absorption of granite is 0.02-0.4%]. Further, the colors in granite will not fade in ultraviolet light because its colors were “baked” into the stone during its formation through the lava process.

Jerry Williams, owner of Barre Sculpture Studios in Montpelier, VT, states that certain considerations are necessary to protect granite when it is combined with elements such as electricity, water, and fire. Williams conceived, engineered, and carved a breathtaking piece that combines granite and fire. One of Barre’s clients requested a table that could be used for an annual father and son camp out. The table would be used near a campfire. Williams proposed a sensational idea with the fire actually be located inside the table. The project is eight feet in diameter and made of Dakota Mahogany granite. The center has a custom-made iron fire pit with bronze lid. The granite is insulated to protect the structural integrity of the stone from the heat of the fire.