Forklifts, giant pieces of stone, clouds of dust and the noise of power tools might cause passers by to mistake Lee Imonen’s stone sculpting class for a construction site. However, through the dust and debris is a challenging and fascinating class, which has been held at Lane for the past 14 years.
The class allows students to experience the entire process of creating a stone sculpture from scratch. Included is everything from forging original hand tools to presenting the final project in the gallery.
This is a process that resonates strongly for graphic design major Wesley McDaniel. “[The method is] a great insight to the past that really gives you a greater appreciation for the historical aspect behind stone carving,” he said.
The class fills every time it is offered. “Stone carvings are some of the oldest historical and creative artifacts surviving throughout human history. They represent our early efforts at storytelling,” Imonen said. “However, I think that most people are drawn to stone carving due to the challenge and the classic romantic image of the artist drawing out the beauty of form hidden in the stone.”
People of all skill levels enroll in the course Imonen said, adding that he makes the class accessible to all by teaching everything from concept and design, to carving by hand and with power tools. “I try to make the process less intimidating and open to anyone with the interest and drive,” he said.
By being fully immersed in the process, students see their visions take shape and come to life in projects both large and small. Geology major Sarah Hansen will carve hers out of a 400 pound marble slab. She watched with tangible anxiety as the slab was hoisted by a forklift onto her new workstation.
The piece she plans to create will be a tribute to her Norwegian heritage, an intricate depiction of a Valkyrie.
The foundation of the class is the process. Several students commented that the beginning-to-end approach that Imonen presents is initially a source of apprehension and uncertainty. However, it eventually flowers into a deeper understanding and appreciation for their individual projects and the craft itself.
Imonen said that in the first week of class is the hands-on process of forging hand tools. He commented that it’s a great way for classmates to get to know each other. “We live in an increasingly technology-based world, but in order to work with materials like clay and stone, you have to jump in,” he said.
Forging tools allows students to have fun while doing something challenging and new and without worrying too much about the results Imonen said. If the tools look a little unusual and rough, it is okay — they are hand-made,” Imonen continued.
“My personal goals are always to see the excitement at the end of the term, when the work is in the gallery,” he said. “Students are thrilled by their accomplishments and often surprised by themselves.”
He shared that after fifteen years teaching, he is almost always pleasantly surprised as well. “Even though I have seen the projects through the process from the beginning, seeing them in the gallery is always like unwrapping a present,” he said.
Students commented that stone sculpting is a class that can create an environment with a very high reward potential. Doug Dewitt, a 56 year old student, summarized his experience by saying, “at first it is scary … but when you work with the stone, everything else disappears.”