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Thursday, 19 May 2005
Tilman Riemenschneider's Angel

Dear Friends

The most beautiful abstract woodcarving I have ever seen was done by the late Gothic German sculptor, Tilman Riemenschneider somewhere around 1600 A.D. His work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum early in 2000. There was a sculptural group, a pair of figures, one of which was a wingless angel, whose celestial existence was indicated by a weightless floating cape which was stunning as an abstract form. I had reached the point where my Angel series was nearing completion, and this carving called out with the force and clarity of an epiphany.

Most of my creative energy since that show has gone into the mosaic collaborations I have been doing with my wife Louise. However when she said she would really like to do a flag in mosaic, Tilman's Angel returned to consciousness, I ordered the Betsy Ross version of the American flag, which, with its circle of 13 stars, has always been my favorite configuration. Interestingly it was never an official flag of the United States. Louise ironed out the fold marks from shipping, and it lay on the dining room table until the anticipation of dinner guests or something like that prompted me to clean off the table and drape the flag over the abstract walnut carving To The Mountain. Bingo.

I needed a reference to work from in the studio, and agonized over the problems of generating an armature for such a thin form. After a false start trying to bend steel rod to the shape of the edge of the flag I realized something like chicken wire would be better. Louise went with me to Home Depot on the quest and she pointed out metal lath for plaster and stucco work. What about that stuff? Another Bingo! I bent it to the shape of the flag and brazed a support to hold it, and covered the whole thing with plasticine: oil based clay.

I harvested a piece of crotch cherry from the mother log that also provided the Leg to Stand On and the Cherry Volute, and went at it like a fiend. If the wood can be carved to a very thin form very quickly, the likelihood of the wood splitting as it dries and shrinks is minimized. As the carving emerged it became clear that if it were completely covered in mosaic it would only be a flag. My son Chris gets credit for the suggestion that the stars and stripes be only minimally articulated. I guess this missive is a sneak preview, since the recesses for the mosaic fields haven't been cut yet. With the Vermont construction season beginning next week, it could be awhile before the polychromatic completion of the piece.

The form reminds me of a hooded mourning figure. Make of that what you will. My best to all....BSB

Posted by Bennett at 7:28 AM EDT
Sunday, 13 March 2005
Cherry Volute

Grettings All:

I had planned to use my day off this coming Sunday to photograph this recently completed collaboration, but it is supposed to snow, and I got home from work early enough to catch the late afternoon light, so here you are.

The inspiration for this carving came while waiting for Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck to come onstage at Mass MoCA. I was reviewing our idea of reinterpreting traditional woodcarving forms with mosaics, and wondering where to go next after the ball and claw foot chair leg and into the minds eye came the volute that ends the neck of a violin, or in our concert enviornment, a contra bass. Voila!

The piece of cherry was left from the rough-out of the Leg to Stand On. Louise and I worked together cutting and fitting the glass, and she glued and grouted it.

Am I allowed to gloat just a little, and say that this piece really tickles me?

I recieved an interesting response to this piece from my internet penpal, the Woodcarver/Ice Sculptor Con Selski who lives way North on the White Sea in Archangel, Russia. Here's the copy and paste:

...."the Cherry Volute is a brilliant woodwork added with a good-tasted decoration. It remembers me not only violin music but ancient Viking ships as well. Viking trade and wars tightly connected with the region we live and high narrow ship's bow with dragon head at the end symbolizes for me a sense of the Northern seas. Blue glass of Louise's mosaics forces the marine impression."

Posted by Bennett at 10:07 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 13 March 2005 10:11 AM EST
Sunday, 20 February 2005
Quartzite Pink and the Orange Gates

Greetings across time and distance

These photos are the first project completed since Louise moved from the dining room table to her own studio space to do mosaics. Another in a series of wild stones partially tamed with a diamond blade grinder and the application of mosaics.

This particular stone is a piece of quartzite which we brought to Long Island from Vermont. There is a strong presence of deep pink striations within the cream color of the quartzite. In cutting the stone I was guided by the form of this pink, and when Louise prepared for the glass installation it occurred to both of us that it would be criminal to obscure the natural color of the stone, so we opted for using clear glass and clear adhesive to bring out the natural color and form. The pink is bordered by a cream colored opaque glass, and the recessed geode-like passage is done in amethyst mirror.

My day-job work on the Richard Serra house has been pushed to a six day week, but last Sunday we opted for a train trip into New York to meet up with son Christopher and take an amble through Central Park and Christo's ephemeral installation, The Gates. Fun, but sort of a one-liner. In person, it's almost an orange cacophony everywhere, but the camera can isolate very beautiful passages.

Our best to all, BSB

Posted by Bennett at 5:55 PM EST
Thursday, 23 December 2004
Lulu's Mosaic Studio

Dear Friends Scattered Everywhere

My thanks to those who have written this Holiday Season, and especially those who have expressed enjoyment in getting the Letters to the Architect. It is hard not to be saddened by the passing of the architect himself.....but Louise and I still include Bob Harper in our dialog as we pound away in Vermont with hammers. I had thought that with the ending of the construction season back in November, we would get back to producing art, but the construction season has reincarnated itself here in Peconic.

Louise set out to paint the Living and Dining rooms and chose two tone gray, which has worked out as a great background for featuring sculpture in the rooms. The paint job left us with piles of Art Books without a home, so over Thanksgiving I built a shelving structure at the top of the stairs. I have not photographed that yet.

I have cut a number of Vermont rocks in preparation for the continuation of the sculptural mosaic collaborations Louise and I have been doing. She didn't want to work at the dining room table any more, so we took the Middle Room (a.k.a. dump zone), and got the kids to help us empty it out then screwed 3/4 inch plywood over the old flooring and 200 year old joists, and laid linoleum tile. Home Depot special. Had a sheet of 3/4 ply left over, and came up with a design derived from the Vermont kitchen-on-casters. Louise tweaked the layout, and I got it built in two weekends and all the evenings in between. I tried to describe it to my sister, and she requested pix so here they are.

May the Holidays work their festive magic on all our hearts to all...BSB

Posted by Bennett at 5:56 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 23 December 2004 5:52 PM EST
Saturday, 25 September 2004
Quartzite Quasi-Runic Rock

As brother Waring left the mountain, with a piece of quartzite lap-strapped in the back seat of his Toyota with a piece of plywood and a 2x6 to increase the restraint, he asked me if quartzite was good to carve. The answer is "Its hard." Like granite however, it does submit to diamond technology.

This piece was brought to Long Island from Vermont last fall and was waiting for inspiration to hit. Thursday morning, while writing morning pages (Julia Cameron: "The Artist's Way".....recommended) the runic semblance of the incision on the the Big Stone in Vermont hit me. I like the sense of the nonsense of non-letters from an archaic non-language. Evocative, but without discernible meaning. The margin of the morning pages book recorded this design, and by the end of the work day the design had superimposed itself in the mind's eye on the piece of quartzite. Got home from work, and discovered that the union of vision and material was better than I could have prayed for. Under quartz halogen light (how appropriate) I cut the piece that night. Trimmed the bottom and cleaned up the edges a bit Friday after work in the dwindling daylight.

Louise and I agreed that the piece was complete as is.....well, it does need a broader base for support, but it didn't seem to qualify for mosaic treatment. Vermont Big Stone (Mountain Graffiti) will most likely also remain without mosaic embellishment. I post this under mosaics on the "Mosaics" blog on the website, for lack of a better place. I could create a new blog I suppose. Any suggestions? except of course to keep working....or not. But the sculpture Gods reward vision executed with more vision. Deposit that in the World Vision Bank ....BSB

Posted by Bennett at 10:18 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 21 September 2004
Mountain Graffiti

Sunday afternoon in Vermont in spectacular autumn weather, after our guests left, I got out the diamond grinders and went at a rock installation which Jon Bohl placed for me almost two years ago when he had his 19 ton Hitachi excavator and bulldozer handy doing the foundation piers. The stone is over 6 feet high. Mosaics are planned but may wait till next year and inspiration. In the mean time we are both pleased with the result. Louise helped plan the layout of the cuts. I stopped at dark on Sunday with the vertical curve cut, and resumed on Monday morning cutting the horizontal wedges. In cities they do graffiti with spray paint on buildings. In Vermont we use diamond grinders on granite boulders. Graffiti is one of the aesthetic manifestations of hip hop culture, so we are with it!

Posted by Bennett at 6:12 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 25 September 2004 10:20 AM EDT
Monday, 13 September 2004
Spiral River

Louise was able to work on the Mosaic Spiral in the glory of the early Autumn Vermont weather. Last weekend when I cut the granite, we were unsure of the proper stuff to use for the Mosaic infill, but over the week, the idea of using brown fish tank pebbles came out on the top of choices. The spiral feels like a flowing river. Spirals are powerful and evocative as archetypes, but I couldn't give you an interpretation that didn't sound like bullshit. Guess I'll never be an art critic or theorist....a necessary precondition for success in the Age of the Conceptual.

Posted by Bennett at 9:13 PM EDT
Monday, 6 September 2004
Vermont Spiral

While in Vermont for a construction weekend,we did use Sunday morning to start a mosaic collaboration. I envisioned a concave dish carved into the face of this rock while we were transcending fear shingling the main roof last year. Louise added the request for a spiral. I did the cutting with the diamond grinder, but we had to pack out before any contrasting material could be grouted into the channel. I would venture to guess it will still be there next week, when we return.

Posted by Bennett at 8:19 AM EDT
Wednesday, 12 May 2004
Sneak Preview: Double Bass Volute

It has been part of the intent of our mosaic collaboration to reexamine with sculptural mosaic, forms handed down through history which are the product of the woodcarvers art. If our present culture has any support for the continuation of this art/craft, its locus eludes me. In the spirit of post-modern irony it seems best to celebrate forms indigenous to woodcarving by translating them into mosaic. See them again for the first time. We are constantly on the lookout. While waiting for Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck to walk onstage at Mass MoCA, the image of a fiddlehead volute popped into my head. Here's a sneak preview. This piece will depart from the strict form of the double bass head, but then again, so does Edgar Meyer's.

Posted by Bennett at 1:26 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 12 May 2004 1:28 PM EDT
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Sign of the Times

Hi Everybhody.

We have Mike Langlie to thank for the graphics design of this sign ( or if you prefer toy piano music I did the logo while still an undergraduate at Wesleyan. The lettering was incised with an 1/8 inch router bit, freehand, and then cleaned up with woodcarving gouges. Louise worked out the color progression and did the glass mosaic. We hung it at the edge of our property which faces the public playing field.

Posted by Bennett at 1:20 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 12 May 2004 8:15 PM EDT

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