Mem­o­ries, magic carved in Mar­ble

Nearly 3 decades later, sculpt­ing sym­po­sium re­mains rock solid

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Blevins

Their faces ghostly white, the sculp­tors care­fully con­jure their vi­sions from blocks of stone.

With scream­ing ma­chines, the art ap­pears. An ocean wave. A dis­torted face. A great ape. A leafy for­est. A con­stel­la­tion.

“What does it look like to you?” says Heidi Treleven, step­ping back from her creation. She grabs a cup of wa­ter and pours it over the top of her three-sided sculp­ture — and the Yule mar­ble glis­tens like a rolling sea of di­a­monds.

Treleven and her hus­band were up in Mar­ble a week ago. The Western Slope busi­ness own­ers were hik­ing and bik­ing, seek­ing respite from the re­lent­less hor­ror of re­cently bury­ing their child. They heard the

whirring wail of grinders and air ham­mers and wan­dered into the “Mar­ble Mar­ble,” a sculpt­ing sym­po­sium on the ver­dant, mar­ble­marked banks of the Crys­tal River.

“These peo­ple have taken me in as their tribe,” she says, carv­ing her first sculp­ture next to her also-sculpt­ing hus­band. “They’ve taught me so much.”

For 29 years, the “Mar­ble Mar­ble” sym­po­sium has hosted pro­fes­sional, am­a­teur and even first-time mar­ble carvers in an ope­nair sum­mer camp. Stu­dents camp along­side in­struc­tors for eight-day ses­sions, us­ing a fleet of tools to trans­form blocks of pris­tine Yule mar­ble quar­ried just up the hill into gallery-ready art. They cook in a wall-less kitchen set up in an aspen grove and dine on gi­ant slabs of white mar­ble. They shower in roof­less mar­ble rooms and pitch tents amid the rub­ble of Mar­ble’s long-dor­mant mill. They carve un­der canopies, twice-daily sem­i­nars di­rect­ing their work.

“Mar­ble Mar­ble” alumni num­ber in the thou­sands. Over nearly three decades, the sym­po­sium — three eight-day sum­mer ses­sions — has launched artists’ ca­reers, sparked mar­riages and drawn count­less pieces of art from Colorado’s sig­na­ture mar­ble boul­ders.

“One of the best things I’ve ever done,” says Jade Win­dell, a Love­land sculp­tor who washed dishes at his first “Mar­ble Mar­ble” eight years ago. Now he’s an in­struc­tor, nudg­ing ea­ger artists from chimera to tri­umph.

“Look at this one,” says Win­dell, bur­nish­ing a slop­ing slab of mas­ter­fully carved Pi­casso mar­ble from Utah. Gos­samer lines ap­pear in the shad­owy brown hue, spi­der-web­bing across the sculp­ture.

“It’s hard to go back to the stu­dio af­ter this. The cre­ative juices just flow up here,” he says. “There is so much tal­ent up here, all across the spec­trum.”

Across the wooded path from Win­dell’s workspace, Ja­panese mas­ter carver Kaz­tu­taka Uchida sits un­der his awning and stares at a per­fectly smoothed obelisk of Yule mar­ble. His chin in his hand, his eyes never leave the stone. He’s call­ing it Orion.

“Very dif­fi­cult to carve. I feel like a be­gin­ner re­turn­ing to this mar­ble,” says Uchida, an art pro­fes­sor who has sculpted for 50 years and who came to “Mar­ble Mar­ble” this year as a guest in­struc­tor. When he last vis­ited, in the mid1990s, he slept in a te­pee with friends.

Den­ver sculp­tor Made­line Wiener had just one in­ten­tion when in 1989 she gath­ered fel­low artists for a week-long con­fab on bor­rowed land in Mar­ble.

“I just wanted to carve with friends in the woods,” says the quick-to-laugh 70year-old who sculpted her first chunk of Yule mar­ble in the early 1970s. “The first year when ev­ery­one left I just cried my eyes out. It was such an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and I knew I was never go­ing to see an­other sin­gle one of them again. Then they started call­ing me and ask­ing about the dates for the next year.”

One ses­sion be­came two, which be­came three. Al­ways the same dates, which are — ahem — set in stone: July 2-9, July 15-22 and July 29-Aug. 5. The prices have barely moved over the years: $900 for a ses­sion, which in­cludes up to 500 pounds of stone, ac­cess to an arse­nal of tools and sem­i­nars such as “Cut­ting Facets” and “Find­ing Your Form” of­fered twice a day. Three meals a day for the week adds $200.

Wiener knows that the carv­ing con­fab is ex­pen­sive for some, so the sym­po­sium pro­vides schol­ar­ships and spe­cial pric­ing for young stu­dents. She also in­vites lo­cal tal­ent.

“We get by on a shoe­string, but we give it away to a lot of peo­ple who need to be here,” she says. “We meet a lot of them half­way or de­velop a pay­ment plan be­cause my goal is to keep this thing go­ing, and if it’s only in the hands of re­tirees, it’s not go­ing to have a long life. So I re­ally want young peo­ple here.”

The Stover fam­ily of Mar­ble do­nated 3.2 acres to Wiener’s non­profit Mar­ble In­sti­tute of Colorado in 1994.

Over the years, “Mar­ble Mar­ble” vol­un­teers have buried pres­sur­ized air lines and pro­vided elec­tri­cal ser­vice to sev­eral dozen carv­ing sites around the prop­erty. Two diesel com­pres­sors hum all day long. They’ve built knee-high mar­ble walls around groves and carved paths that wind through the for­est above the river. They built bath­rooms to re­place the por­ta­ble toi­lets and, most re­cently, con­structed showers by stack­ing gi­ant quar­ter-rounds of mar­ble from the old mill site that shut­tered in 1941 as the coun­try girded for war.

At night, the in­struc­tors work un­der soft lights with­out any power tools. The stu­dents gather, ab­sorb­ing and im­bib­ing.

“Yeah, we’ve had some re­ally good changes up here, but in many ways, the orig­i­nal en­ergy of friends carv­ing in the woods is still as strong as ever here,” long­time “Mar­ble Mar­ble” in­struc­tor Petro Hul says.

It all goes back to Wiener. Her son, Josh, learned to sculpt at “Mar­ble Mar­ble.” They share a stu­dio to­gether in Boul­der. The fam­ily bought land above the sym­po­sium site for stu­dent campers. They built a home down the street. For decades, the fam­ily has spent their sum­mers amid the town’s gi­ant blocks of crys­talline Yule, sculpt­ing and min­gling.

“Made­line is the heart be­hind all of this,” says Kath­leen Cari­cof, an ac­com­plished sculp­tor with pieces adorn­ing the cam­pus at the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver, as well as pub­lic places in Broom­field, Love­land, Cal­i­for­nia and Arkansas.

Cari­cof is sand­ing a twist­ing, flow­ing swirl of translu­cent mar­ble with 40-grit pa­per. She will spend many more hours mov­ing to finer grit pa­per, as­sid­u­ously whet­ting the stone, an ab­stract piece in­spired, per­haps, by the river rip­pling a few feet down the bank.

“Made­line has had the heart to let this be what it is,” she says.

The sym­po­sium, says first-timer Jeff Tom­bou­lian, is about trust and gen­eros­ity.

“You have to trust that ev­ery­thing is go­ing to work out. Made­line showed that at the very be­gin­ning, and that re­mains to­day,” says the teacher from Broom- field as he slowly pol­ishes a swoop­ing hoop of mar­ble. “And there’s a syn­ergy here with all kinds of dif­fer­ent ideas com­ing to­gether. Peo­ple don’t al­ways agree, but they dis­agree re­spect­fully and usu­ally in a hi­lar­i­ous way.”

Wiener de­flects both credit and praise. She’s not carv­ing much this ses­sion, but she heaps lau­rels on her team and stu­dents. Even though she com­petes with many of the artists in at­ten­dance for lu­cra­tive pub­lic art con­tracts that can keep her carv­ing, such as the in­ter­ac­tive Flower Girl piece she in­stalled last fall at Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens.

Ravin­der Bhard­waj is fin­ish­ing a stun­ning yoga pose, culled from what was a square block. With a wide grin, he says he can’t do the pose, “but I can do it in stone.”

Wiener knows the pose. She carved a sim­i­lar piece years ago.

“But not as exquisitely as you,” she tells her friend, who came from In­dia to carve. “I was happy with mine, but I was never as ex­cited to see mine as I am to see yours here against the woods and shad­ows.”

Slic­ing through seared chicken breast at a mas­sive ta­ble of, you guessed it, mar­ble, Wiener shakes her head at the no­tion that she could have planned 29 years of moun­tain­side mar­bles­culpt­ing ses­sions with friends that would be­come fam­ily. Her pri­mary goal was open­ness, not some five-, 10- or 15-year plan.

“We don’t have any spe­cial tricks. If some­one asks me how I got that texture, I walk them over to a piece of stone and show them. We have no se­crets here,” she says, her blue eyes gleam­ing be­neath a shock of white hair. “All the en­ergy here, I give it right back. I just want this to be the same amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence it was for me the first time. In a way, I would con­sider ‘Mar­ble Mar­ble’ one of my most self­ish en­deav­ors. I work on it all year long, but I get so much more back from it.”

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Sculp­tor Al Brown of Detroit works on a de­pic­tion of King Louis, the orang­utan from the film “The Jun­gle Book,” dur­ing the “Mar­ble Mar­ble” sym­po­sium.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Sculp­tor Shivaku­mar Sunkad trav­eled all the way from In­dia to Colorado to take part in the “Mar­ble Mar­ble” sculpt­ing sym­po­sium.

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