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Annual gathering takes art for granite

September 22, 2021
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Stoneworker Isabel Catherine Kelley polishes her sculpture at this year’s Hallowell Granite Symposium. Stoneworker Isabel Catherine Kelley polishes her sculpture at this year’s Hallowell Granite Symposium. (edge photo by Neily Raymond)

HALLOWELL - A woman holding a rotary saw stands in front of a chunk of granite. She steps forward and jams the saw into the rock. The screech is like a hive of electric bumblebees—but for Isabel Catherine Kelley, it’s just another day on the job. She’s a sculptor at the Hallowell Granite Symposium, and power tools are par for the course.

At this annual mid-September gathering, artists from across the state transform blocks of granite, quarried in Hallowell and donated by the town, into works of art. This year, the quad at Stevens Commons played host to the event. Six sculptors from the Maine Stone Workers’ Guild—Dan Ucci, Isabel Catherine Kelley, Andreas von Hume, Mark Herrington, Jon Doody and Sam Finkelstein—began working on the morning of September 11. They weathered sun, sweat and rock dust in order to finish their sculptures before the 19th.

For the eight days in between, Stevens Commons was crowded with visitors, eager to witness the sculpting process up close (“Up close” being a relative term - although the artists protected themselves with goggles, masks, and noise-blocking earmuffs, visitors stood at a safe distance, behind yellow tape). In spare moments, the artists chatted with onlookers. A visitors’ tent offered a soft-stone carving activity, alongside artifacts and historical displays. 

Those displays chronicled the history of granite mining in Hallowell, a river town that was once a leading player in the granite industry. The town shipped granite to nearly every state east of the Mississippi, where it became gravestones, statues, and buildings. Hallowell granite was used for the cornice pieces of Boston’s Quincy Market. It was used for the Monument to the Forefathers at Plymouth, Massachusetts. And it was the primary building material for the Maine State House, only a few miles down the road. As this year’s artists hacked, whacked, and carefully carved into their Hallowell granite, they were continuing a venerable tradition.

For Joseph DiMauro, a stoneworker’s apprentice from Boothbay, Maine, tradition is paramount.

“My dad owns a landscape construction business, so I’ve worked a lot with stone, and Dan Ucci, my mentor, is so amazing [and] also an artist,” DiMauro said. “I’ve been working with him, on and off, for a year and a half now, and he gave me the opportunity to work here.” 

This is DiMauro’s first year at the symposium, and he said he plans to return. “Every day I learn more and more.”

The 2021 theme was “Maine200,” prompting artists to commemorate the state’s bicentennial. The public was invited to vote for their favorite sculpture; some of the pieces were chosen for installation around Hallowell, while the remaining sculptures are available for sale through the Harlow Gallery. If you’ve ever wanted to own a multi-ton Gigantor of a rock, now’s your chance - though you might need some help getting it home.

(The event was sponsored by major grants from the Maine Bicentennial Commission and Kennebec Savings Bank. For more information, visit hallowellgranitesymposium.org.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 September 2021 07:14
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