• ‘Rock Solid’ filled with ‘gems’
     | September 27,2012
    Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo

    "Himalaya I and II" by Gampo Wickenheiser.

    “This is like a family reunion. We have a lot of people involved each year. They are in many ways old friends and it is a lot of fun to have their work in the gallery,” said Sue Higby, executive director of Barre’s Studio Place Arts, as the final pieces were set in place for the opening of the art center’s 12th annual Rock Solid show.

    Rock Solid is now a tradition — an annual celebration of the skill and imagination of today’s Vermont stone carvers. Of the 23 artists featured this year, a dozen of them, women and men, are from central Vermont. Their works are in native stone — granite, slate, marble, and river boulders — and also from further afield – French limestone, Italian alabaster among them. Several two-dimensional works, paintings relating to stone, are also in the exhibition.

    “Every year the show has a huge shift in different stone and different qualities, and the mood of the room is always very dramatically different. Each show has its own flavor or personality,” said Higby. “This one is really interesting, the works tend to be smaller, which makes the pieces more like gems. A beauty of this particular exhibit is that most of the pieces could easily fit into a living room or office.”

    Long-established carvers participate in the show, as do artists who have more recently started working in the medium. As always, there is tremendous diversity — a variety of figures including some beautiful nudes and a range of abstracted sculptures, many with organic qualities.

    Giuliano Cecchinelli Sr., one of Barre’s senior statesmen of stone carving, who has been sculpting for nearly six decades, has three pieces in the show — “1964 Sacrilege,” “Orgy 2005” and “A Dance.”

    “This is a really fantastic piece,” said Higby pointing to the lively figure of “A Dance,” a young woman in a moment of movement, skirt swirling, arms bent.

    “It is very difficult to create fabric or skin surfaces that look soft and supple from something as hard as granite. This is really a very beautiful piece.”

    Gampo Wickenheiser, also of Barre, has two sculptures on display — “Himalaya I” and “Himalaya II.”

    “Gampo pulled these big river stones from a local stream. With a stone like this you don’t know what kind of imperfections you will find inside — for instance it could split as you carve it,” said Higby. “He has created these little portraits from the stone that respect where the river currents have already carved the surface a little bit over time. It’s amazing that these great little faces are emerging from boulders like this, just popping out of the stone.”

    A marble cat eyeing its prey, muscles tense, is captured in “Stalking” by Enid Angstreich of Berlin. Heather Ritchie, of Plainfield, has her granite “Capricorn 2012” in the show.

    Ritchie and Cecchinelli Sr. have both just been commissioned to do works for the Stone Sculpture Legacy program in Barre, created out of the Charles Semprebon Fund.

    Montpelier sculptor Jeanne Cariati has two alabaster pieces in the show. “Mother of Wood 2012” unfurls in a smooth organic shell-like form, irresistibly touchable.

    “We like people to gently feel the pieces and feel the texture,” said Higby about these tactile temptations. “We encourage people to experience the sculpture entirely, and I think that’s unusual in a gallery.”

    With the “Rock Solid” show, local residents as well as visitors to the area have an opportunity to see the creativity of contemporary artists working in stone.

    “We try to reach out across a large area and get visitors to come and appreciate what we do in Vermont,” said Higby. “The show is also a way of exploring our responsibility to innovate here in Barre. When a studio works primarily on commissions, they don’t often have a chance to do a sidestep and explore other avenues of self expression. I think it’s a very exciting opportunity – I hope.”

    Large works done by area studios go to destinations around the country and beyond.

    “A lot of the studios’ big commissions get shipped off and that’s all well,” said Higby. “But this is a good visual reminder of how robust the skills are here. It is wonderful to have this work displayed in the gallery.”

    Studio Place Arts

    Studio Place Arts presents “Rock Solid” Sept. 25-Nov. 3 in its main gallery, 201 N. Main St. in Barre. On exhibit concurrently are “Kingdoms in the Sky” by Vanessa Compton (second floor) and “Freedom from Dilution,” paintings by John David O’Shaughnessy (third floor). Hours are: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; noon to 4 p.m. Saturday; for information, call 479-7069, or go online to www.studioplacearts.com. A public reception will be held, Friday, Sept. 28, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

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