Pulling Picasso out of a block of stone

21:23, Jul 07 2014

I have fine white dust in my hair and scattered around me is an arsenal of tools you might find in a garden shed.

Hammer, chisel, saw, sandpaper, file.

Sitting before me on the work bench is a large chunk of Oamaru stone - grainy and soft, it's the best kind of stone for beginner carvers like me.

It's forgiving and doesn't require anything too heavy duty to sculpt it, unlike the smooth and lustrous andesite sculptures scattered on the lawn outside.

I'm at the heart of Taranaki's stone carving community - Te Kupenga stone sculpture society in the shadow of Paritutu Rock, joining a group of Witt students attending a workshop run by artist Anna Korver.

Korver is an executive member of Te Kupenga stone sculpture society and co-owns a fine art gallery and sculpture park in Tataraimaka.


She learnt the art as a child in Nelson when her father taught her to carve wood.

Since then she has branched into stone, and other materials like bronze and glass, but remains most fond of carving New Zealand marble, the stone that originates from her birthplace of Nelson.

Carving is a natural process for her, Korver says.

Over time she's developed her own style and forms that she follows.

"But I always leave room to move and develop and change, and not close doors when I'm in the work."

Her works are quite autobiographical, including a lot of figurative and abstract work because working outside she's inspired by natural forms that surround her.

Stone carving is growing in Taranaki, with membership in the society swelling over the last two years thanks in part to the sculpture symposium on the waterfront every two years, she says.

As she walks between the benches, offering advice on which angle to hold the chisel or suggesting a smaller tool for fine detail, it's clear Korver enjoys seeing others take pleasure in carving.

"For me it's great.

"When you do it all the time you can get a little jaded so it's a nice reminder this is a fun thing to do," she laughs.

Of more than 200 students she's tutored, they've all manage to carve something and no two have been the same, information that comforts me as I stare blankly at my block of stone.

I look around and everybody is sawing or chipping away with intent.

Picking up a saw, I assume a purposeful gaze and begin to saw an edge off the rectangular block.

Picking up the tools isn't the hard part, it's figuring out how to deal with the 3D form, Korver says, and I agree.

I give up on conceptualising and decide to saw and chisel at random and let the form figure itself out.

"I don't give anyone templates because I think that inhibits your own style," Korver tells us at the beginning of the workshop.

"As soon as you can find your own tangent, you'll be doing better as an artist."

Adrian Teivirau's taken a more confident approach than mine, he has a clear idea of the form he's aiming to create.

"A stingray," he says, pointing out the pencil outline of tail, body and head. The animal has cultural significance to Teivirau, who is Rarotongan.

"Some say it's the guardian of the sea."

Billy-Ray Smith started off with a concept but soon realised he'd been a bit ambitious.

"It was supposed to be a circle, now I don't know what it is.

"So I'm just going with it."

Matt Harland was sandpapering the early stages of a blacksmith's hammer - a homage to his trade background.

"I like taking industrial themes and applying them to mediums they don't really suit.

"I was a panelbeater before I started getting into the arts."

After the hour session, my sculpture is a jumble of haphazard angles.

"I like it, it's quite architectural," Korver offers.

"Sort of Picasso-like", videographer Sam says.

I'll run with that.

Taranaki Daily News