At Phipps Garden Center, a sculptor teaches working with marble. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

At Phipps Garden Center, a sculptor teaches working with marble.

It is Sunday afternoon at the Phipps Garden Center, in Shadyside. Rich Rosen, 61, is chiseling a replica of a moai statue out of a 70-pound block of white marble. The resemblance is respectable if not exact -- we see the familiar wide nose, sloping cheeks and jutting forehead of those famous relics on Easter Island. This is from a man who describes himself, with a laugh, as barely able to draw stick figures.

Nearby, Kathy Mcclure, 55, hunches with intense concentration over an angular hunk of white marble she dubs "North Wind." Mcclure is a physician who took two days off work to participate in award-winning sculptor DJ Garrity's four-day workshop, "Rhythms of Stone," an exploration in the art of portraiture in stone carving. 

"I will never look at stone the same way again," says Rosen. "After this workshop, I will be looking for faces in every stone." He picks up my Starbucks paper cup, looks at the logo. "Like this siren here. It would be beautiful to carve her." 

Few of the 10 students in Garrity's class, held Nov. 6-9, had artistic experience. But the romance of working with a classical, if unforgiving, medium seems to inspire. Fifty-nine-year-old Garrity -- he prefers DJ to his given name, Douglas John -- is a sculptor-in-residence at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. He's a soft-spoken man with distinctive blue eyes and an unaffecting manner that instantly puts you at ease.

Garrity has bought his sculpting program to botanical gardens all over the country for the past few years, lugging slabs of marble in the back of his van from coast to coast. Most beginners, he says, learn to carve with limestone or alabaster, which is more malleable. His workshop costs $470, materials included. He says it is the only course he knows of that teaches sculptors to work with marble. Some of his students have gone straight from his workshop to the gallery.

"Marble is beautiful, durable," explains Garrity. "Look at the way it sparkles. It has a translucent quality that illuminates in a way most other stones don't, especially when sunlight hits it." Sometimes noses break off and cheeks fracture in these workshops, but Garrity tells his students that it is a happy incident: "That's when you really start getting down to the heart of the stone."

Carving faces from marble is like working with clouds. Garrity teaches his students to respect the material, and to flow with the shape of the stone. He shows his students how to capture the essence of emotion in a human face. (You start by chiseling in the tip of the nose.) Picking up a slab of marble a student is working on, he accentuates the emerging eyes with black chalk: "Look at this one here, what a flamboyant piece of stone."  

Most of Garrity's students have landscaping or gardening backgrounds -- Mcclure is going to put her sculpture in her garden. Rosen is going to give his moai sculpture to his girlfriend for Christmas. "It would be the perfect gift."

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