Memories, magic carved in Marble
Nearly 3 decades later, sculpting symposium remains rock solid
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.”
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.
Sculptor Shivakumar Sunkad traveled all the way from India to Colorado to take part in the “Marble Marble” sculpting symposium.