When a Stone Becomes Alive

Mirosław Rydzak

                Stone is a symbol of things inanimate, lifeless, cold and insensitive. By analogy we often say that some people have “the heart of stone”…..
However, my experiences as a sculptor allowed me to take a completely different look at stone.
In August of 1996 I participated in the International Stone Symposium organised with the co-operation of the Muzée de la Pierre in Sprimont, Belgium, and the “Wallonian Stone and Marble“ Association. The Association, in existence since 1990, organises trips and seminars, publishes books and technical brochures with the sole purpose of spreading the knowledge of Wallonian stones, of places of where they are quarried, methods of their processing, and use. Museum’s activity is supported and supplemented by the Museum of Stone in Sprimont. The museum, located in the building previously occupied by the power station, presently serves as an example of historic industrial architecture from the beginning of our century. Countless numbers of small windows and whole walls made of glass make the interiors of the Museum look very bright and produce a perfect lighting for the exhibits. Unprocessed stone pieces, tools used in stone processing, and final products are exhibited here and a visitor may learn about the lives of many sculptors. A frame saw, a marble carver workshop, and a workplace for stone carving are installed in the museum so that visitors can see craftsmen at work in these workshops. Special tours with a series of educational activities are organised for pre-school and primary school children. Thanks to the slides and exhibits collected at the so-called “educational briefcase” children can for themselves advance a hypothesis of the history of stone and verify their assumptions at the “Museum of Touch”. Here the children observe, listen, look, ask questions, and first of all, learn about stones by touching them with their own hands and feet, make comparisons, and finally, express their opinions as to whether they like the stones for their colour, arrangement of colours, light effects, etc. On the basis of different stone characteristics, fossilised insects or plants, the children establish the chronology and history of stones, and then identify the found pieces. Finally, they make up stories and anecdotes about an individual stone and stage a show based on these stories.
After the tour a young visitor has time to relax in the swimming pool or at the playground especially designed for them.
Each child may take a stone “souvenir” of his/her liking so that they could feel it, absorb it and understand it. They leave the museum convinced that they learned “the speech of stones”.
I saw museum’s exhibits with great interest. Moreover, it turns out that the neighbourhood of Wallonia abounds in several species of stones. The following stones are extracted in this area: Ardennes slate, Gobertange stone, red, grey and black marble, schistose sandstone, Fontenoille sandstone, Condroz sandstone, and limestone from Tournai, Moha and Vinalmont. The so-called “little granite” – a grey and blue limestone originating from the “tournaisien” stratigraphic epoch, is of special importance. Its outstanding technical virtues make this stone a very good option for use in construction. It is also used by artists in monumental sculptures. The stone became very popular thanks to its adaptability to different kinds of processing: chipping, manual and mechanical carving, grinding, turning, dressing and polishing. The above characteristics allow an artist to bring out the abundance of textures, shades and colours (the whole spectrum of blues and greys, including black) and achieve a diversity of contrasting combinations within one sculpture form.
The following international group of 15 sculptors was selected for the Symposium of Sculpture in Stone: Vincent Courtin, Vladimir Cazan, Raymond Langhor, Phillippe Laurent, Pol Lemaire, Veronique Mercier, Catherine Norberg, Otto Berndt Steffen, Monika Osiecka, Mirosław Rydzak, Constant Tagalidis, Solange Walhin. Lisette and Georges Godinas, and Luc Protte – the Director of the Museum, were in charge of organisation, co-ordination, and technical matters. And they did their job perfectly.
The artists began their creative work in the darkest variety of “ little granite”, with the assumption of taking advantage of the virtues of this stone for artistic needs. While working on this stone I noticed that “little granite” was extremely “sculpturable” and I could freely use my chisel as well as mechanical tools. The stone is compact and of uniform fine-grain structure. Veins and defects in the form of “air bubbles” are a rarity and therefore the stone provides many possibilities and gives the sense of confidence in creation of sculptor’s vision. The stone produces excellent polishing effects of deep black (both by “wet” and “dry” methods), while the arrangement of different textures and the polished surface animates the stone through the vibration of light rays.
I created a sculpture called “Muse” which consists of two parts and embodies naturalistic and symbolic features.
In my judgement, such characteristics as weight, density, colour and resonance of the black variety of “le petit granite” are comparable only to the full sound of a pipe organ. Therefore, I used the simplified shape of a pipe organ as the basis of my sculpture. The figure of the Muse with two faces emerges above the stone organ as a materialised form of musical work, as a symbol of inspiration and unity between the creator and the performer, and as a symbol of art’s ambiguity…
In my opinion, stone as sculptor’s material is alive and pulsating. My views are confirmed by the experiences of other sculptors, and first of all, by stone’s origins. Stone lives and undergoes transformation in the interior of the Earth. The most crucial phase in the development of stone’s structural and mineral form is all kinds of metamorphism and magma intrusion in particular. Magma escapes from the broken heart of the Earth. It crystallises and hardens the rocks, endowing them with nobleness corresponding to their ordeal by fire. It animates and transforms the rocks, at the same time impressing upon them the stigma and essence of the planet regarded by us as “the Mother of Life”…
Afterwards it stays frozen until touched by a human hand, and only then it becomes alive again.

Artist Sculptor
Mirosław Rydzak