(Please note: The following article is used with permission of the Marble Institute of America, the descendant company of the National Association of Marble Dealers, the original publisher of the magazine. Peggy B. Perazzo)
“When prehistoric man discovered that he could vastly augment his physical powers with the aid of sticks and stones so plentifully strewn about him, the way was opened for the development of the multitudinous arts and crafts pursued by later civilizations. The human race in a clumsy way had started putting to its service the hidden forces of nature. Even after finding it possible to do damage at a distance with a hurled rock or club, a long period of time must have elapsed before someone chanced to tie a stone on the end of a stick and realize that, with the combination of the two, he possessed a weapon far superior in effectiveness to anything used heretofore. From that time, and with the help of such crude tools, new avenues of unsuspected power were opened and the human race slowly developed the trait of constructive thought.
“As new experiences came to him, man felt the urge to tell them to his comrades. Perhaps with the aid of his stone hammer he had conquered a fierce beast never overcome before. Such a feat would give him unquestioned distinction in the tribe. Therefore it became necessary to translate his adventures in a manner intelligible to his fellow beings. Accordingly, the savage hero may have resorted to a stretch of smooth sand where he could mark for all to see the graphic story of his struggle.
“But the sands were not permanent. A little gust of wind, a sudden shower, would quickly obliterate the pictured tale; and man’s mind would not retain it much longer. A more lasting method of depicting his narrative was necessary. The inevitable result was at first to scratch, and later to chisel crudely his legends on the walls of caves and other exposed rock surfaces. A few of these records engraved on pieces of stone or ivory have been discovered and carefully preserved.
“Since those times art in its various forms has been used universally to express human emotions. The ancients symbolized their worship in the form of sculptured deities. Stone carving had its principal development in the service of religion. In pagan times temples and fanes to the fabled gods called for more elaborate adornment than was given to palaces of earthly beings. Some races conceived their deities as monsters, the carved objects representing them standing stiff and unreal. Others thought of their gods and goddesses in the likeness of human beings, but humans freed from every blemish, made beautiful by the artistic imagination. From such ideals sprang some of the finest examples of sculptured art the world has ever seen.
“Greek sculpture owes its fame to the idealism of its craftsmen. The role of the Greek sculptor was inspiring and elevating. His work, exhibited to sympathetic and intelligent multitudes, appealed to the highest and best in their natures. Unlike the modern artist who first makes a clay model and then has it duplicated in marble, the Greek master carved the whole subject personally. With the help possibly of drawings or small clay models to guide the eye, he dispensed with measurements and struck out freely as genius and training inspired him. If he made a mistake the result was remedied by attaching a fresh piece of marble. The ability to work in this way must have required an astounding accuracy of eye and hand.
“The practice of combining several pieces of marble to form a single subject was frequently and skillfully accomplished by the Greeks. F. B. Tarbel in his History of Greek Art, states 'A Greek marble statue is often not made of a single piece. Thus the Aphrodite of Melos was made of two principal pieces, the junction coming just above the drapery, while several smaller parts, including the left arm, were made separately and attached. The Laocoön Group which Pliny expressly alleges to have been made of a single block, is in reality made of six. Often the head was made separately from the body, sometimes of a finer quality of marble, and then inserted into a socket prepared for it in the neck of the figure. And very often, when the statue was mainly of a single block, small pieces were attached, sometimes in considerable numbers. Of course, the joining was done with extreme nicety, and would have escaped ordinary observation.'
“Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and later in the Mediæval Period, it was customary to give a considerable degree of polish to the nude parts of a marble statue. It was supposed to suggest that somewhat glossy surface of the human skin better than the coarser finish left by modern sculptors. Some of the pedimental figures of the Parthenon still retain this high polish. The Hermes of the Vatican Belvidere is a remarkable instance. Michelangelo employed this method still further and gave certain parts of some of his statues, such as the Moses, the highest possible polish in order to bring out certain high lights just where he desired them.
“Michelangelo, in some instances, appears to have cut his statues from the marble without previously making a model - a mastery of art rivaling that of the ancient Greeks. Like all of the great sculptors of the Middle Ages, he did the whole of the carving with his own hands, and 'when beginning on a block of marble attacked it with such vigorous strokes of the hammer that large pieces of marble flew about in every direction.'
“While producing their wonderful creations, the old craftsmen were not annoyed to any great extent by the problems of competition or of the high cost of living. They thought nothing of waiting months for ox teams to haul blocks from the quarries. Like methods, today, would not be tolerated nor could modern carvers spending such lengths of time in dreamy contemplation of their work as is related of Ghiberti, who consumed twenty years of his life in making those marvelous doors for the Baptistry at Florence. The amount of money received would not support the most meager standard of living. The modern artist has at his command special machinery to facilitate the production of sculptural work in marble. Hand methods of sawing have almost entirely disappeared, while rubbing and polishing depend largely on machine processes. Workmen are equipped with pneumatic chisels which - except where certain work demands it - have done away with the old hammering methods. Yet with all these changes a high standard of workmanship is constantly maintained. In fact, we find many instances of truly inspiring pieces of sculpture finished with such scrupulous care, such infinite regard to detail, that one marvels at the handiwork.
“Many an artistic feature of the modern altar owes its origins to one of the old creations. A noteworthy instance is the sculptured picture of the 'Last Supper' which rests in the altar of St. James Cathedral, Seattle, Washington. It is a faithful transcription in stone of the original painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Its white marble figures eloquently portray the story as told by the inspired brush of Leonardo. The vigor and delicacy of the work in this panel is apparent to the most casual observer. It is a notable achievement in the art of marble carving in America.
“With the development of taste and the growing elaboration of buildings, there has been a very great increase in the employment of ornamentation in stonework. Within the past decade or two there have been erected in this country countless structures, both public and private, that can scarcely be matched in any country for size, elaborateness, and cost. Sculpture has been called in as an aid to architecture and it is the exception, rather than the rule, when an important building goes up without a plentiful enrichment of carving, if not of actual statuary. A rather unique example may be found in the Book Building, Detroit, Michigan, particularly in the engaged columns which divide the third story windows into three parts. These white Vermont marble pillars are replicas of the historical shafts in the Certosa di Pavia, built during the latter part of the fifteen century. The sculptured freize (sic) above each opening is another telling detail in the success with which Louis Kamper has applied the artistry of the Italian Renaissance to the requirements of modern building construction.
“In the mantel of the State Library at Albany, N.Y., is an interesting piece of interior decoration - the New York State Seal, carved from a slab of white marble and showing in artistic detail the various characters and symbols. It is a very appropriate addition to the attractive fireplace in the library. In the same line with this seal there is the Wall Tablet in the Baker residence, Glen Cove, Long island, N.Y., which shows, in relief, an old-time ship under full sail, driven before the wind. Adornments like these bring individuality and character to an interior.
|(Photo caption) “Mural tablet in Baker residence at Glen Cove, Long Island; Walker & Gillette, architects. Carved out of Rutland Statuary marble.” pp. 9.|
“The custom of appropriating marble to the needs of parks and gardens was inaugurated many centuries ago by the wealthy families of the Old World. This practice, coming to us across the ages, has lost nothing of its popularity. Everywhere in our parks and gardens there are evidences of fine sculptured work in marble. In Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I., Benedict's Monument to Music, with its turned Ionic capitals, is embellished further with a beautifully carved frieze. Another memorial within this category is the Stewart Memorial Fountain, Madison, Wisconsin, which exhibits some very skillfully executed marble figures. Still another is the Dupont Memorial Fountain in Washington D.C., by Daniel Chester French, one of the ablest of American sculptors. This was built of white Georgia marble and it is said that the pedestal was cut from a single block 10 feet high and the bowl from a block 13 feet in diameter.
|(Photo caption) “Figure for Stewart Memorial Fountain at Madison, Wisconsin. sculptured from Vermont Statuary marble from models by Federick C. Clasgens.” pp. 11.|
|(Photo caption) “White Georgia marble was used in the Dupont Memorial Fountain at Washington, D.C. Henry Bacon was the architect and Daniel Chester French the sculptor.” pp. 15.|
“On a smaller scale are the wall tablets such as that to Linda A. Eastman in the Cleveland Public Library, which evidence the high degree of proficiency attained by our marble shops today. Other forms of marble carving are seen in the pierced marble grill in the Bowery Savings Bank, New York, and the carved panel in the wall of the Missouri State Capitol, at Jefferson City. In each of these two instances, Napoleon Gray marble was used; the Cleveland Library tablet was cut out of Eastman Cream marble.
|(Photo caption) “One of the tablets in the Cleveland Public Library.” pp. 16.|
|(Photo caption) “Pierced grille, cut from Napoleon Gray marble in the Bowery Savings Bank, New York City.” pp. 12.|
|(Photo caption) “Carved panel in the wall of the Missouri State Capitol. The architects, Tracy & Swartwout, selected Napoleon Gray marble for this work.” pp. 13.|
“Carved work in marble, whether it is in the form of architectural ornament, fountain or garden group, memorial tablet or statue, always lends an atmosphere of distinction to its setting. It not only imparts color, beauty and attractiveness to the surroundings, but it is ever a source of inspiration to the true craftsman.
“Some have eyes
That see not; but in every block of marble
I see a statue - see it as distinctly
As if it stood before me shaped and perfect
In attitude and action. I have only
To hew away the stone walls that imprison
The lovely apparition, and reveal it
To other eyes as mine already see it.
From: Long fellow's Michelangelo.
|(Photo caption) “Carving the cap for the Soldiers' Memorial, Stamford, Connecticut, in the shops at Proctor, Vermont. George A. Freeman, architect. George A. Freeman, architect. pp. 10.|
|(Photo caption) “Cutting the large sculptured capitals, from blocks of Vermont marble, for the Arlington Memorial columns. Carrere & Hastings, architects. pp. 12.|
|(Photo caption) “Carver at work on marble panel for the altar in the Vincentian Convent, Albany, New York.” pp. 12.|
|(Photo caption) “Bust of Hippocrates, placed in the Kolynos Building, New Haven, Connecticut. The marble is Vermont Statuary. McClintock & Craig, architects.” pp. 13.|
|(Photo caption) “The carved panels in the Brooks Memorial at Memphis, Tennessee are of Georgia marble. The architect was James Gamble Rogers.” pp. 14.|