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Set in Stone – Portrait of a Sculptor

Set in Stone – Portrait of a Sculptor


As a sculptor would I consider myself an artist or a craftsman? Well, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, every artist was first an amateur, I think I’m someplace in the middle, I don’t think I’m quite the artist yet, but hopefully I’ll get there. I started off with my dad, when I was 16 I left school and he used to do fireplaces, and we used to do the old Adams fireplace and there’d always be an urn or kind of flutes or something we’d have to carve into it, so that’s… he carved them out rough and then to put the finish on them he give them to me and I’d sand them, sand them, sand them and hone them that’s how I started at that. After that I left Roscommon and I went to London and it developed from there really, you know. I loved every minute I was in London doing those jobs, I had originally only planned to go there for six months but I ended up spending seven years there. Starting with my dad, the one thing he used to always say to me about any job you do, he said there isn’t a job you can’t do if you know what it should look like when it’s finished. He said you can work back, he said that’s the most important thing, know where you’re going with it. If you know what it should look like when it’s finished, it get’s easier everything else is just, logistics really. Roscommon limestone is particularly good first of all the colour of it, it’s got a lovely steely gray colour, when you’re working it, it’s hard, it bites you when you work on it, you have to have your chisel sharp, you have to have your blades new, when you’re working with Roscommon Limestone it’s a challenge there’s no doubt about that, but when you hit a piece of Roscommon Limestone and you hear that ring (sound of stone being hit) and you’d know, there’s not going to be any problems with this. For my mind the best quarry in Ireland is in Lecarrow in Roscommon. What we’ve found generally is the deeper you go into the quarry – the better the quality of the stone. The harder it is, the color is deeper, it’s a deeper steely gray. At the top is kind of gray and brown and as it goes down it gets to gray and then as you go down further again it gets darker. That’s the really hard stone and it also helps, I know the quarry master very well and if you’re looking for a good piece of stone you can give him a ring, he’ll say, well I’ll keep an eye out for you. That saw was actually secondhand when it went into Lecarrow, so that saw has to be nigh on 100 years old and it’s still cutting stone great. I made a small sheep sculpture before, two lambs and a ewe as a trophy for the lamb festival, I think it was 2015, I did that one. They came out and they asked me would I do it and I said sure it’s not too bad, it’s a small piece, probably, say, a foot long by 6 inches tall, you know, quite a manageable thing. I really enjoyed doing it and I was surprised how long it took. It took me like three or four days to carve it out and the Committee came back and said well how much was that Mark, and I said look sure I don’t want any money for it I’d just rather that you have it, but I say there will never be another one. I said it’s a one off thing I don’t mind doing it but that’s it. So that’s how I ended up making a two and a half ton one! (Laughs) They came back two years later and said would you make another one! The stone we got, it started off as 4 tonne in weight, and it is actually funny, a great friend of mine Michael Kearney was down there and we were looking at the stone now when you say 4 tonne you think that’s a very very big stone but it’s not actually that big. So we got the stone on the truck, came down to my yard, I have a 3 tonne fork lift (laughs) and when we put the stone on the fork lift the fork lift tipped up we had to get a tonne of cement to put on the back and Michael Kearney sitting on the back of the fork lift to try get it off the truck. So when I got the stone we grided it out, what you do is go a hundred mill squares do the whole the grid the whole stone out, I put the profile up to it and traced out where we wanted to start because when you’re actually carving something like this and people see you do the finer details and you think wow that’s fantastic, that’s tricky, the only thing about that is when you’re doing the finer details if you do mess up, you always have another chance to go back into it. When you’ve a big chainsaw you’re cutting lumps off it, if you cut a leg off, if you cut something wrong, it’s finished there’s no going back on it. When you’re cutting through and you have your grid lines worked out you have to be spot-on. It’s like when they did the English Tunnel, they have to meet in the middle and when you’re going through a four tonne stone you can’t cut all the way through you can only cut halfway through and then you have start from the other half and you’re hoping that it matches. Researching the sheep, actually went out to Derek Allen’s farm in Castlemine they’ve an organic farm and he was good enough to hone in some sheep into a pen for me and we looked at those and my neighbour here just outside the workshop, Johnny Healy, he came, he took a great interest and he was a great help to me he’s an old hand at job he knows exactly what they look like and he got one and put it in the pen for me and when I was actually carving it, he came up and said Mark you know, you need to refine the nose a little bit which I thought was actually brilliant he was a hundred percent right. It’s a Carboniferous Limestone it formed a shallow sea bed three hundred and forty million years ago when Ireland was a landmass near the equator so 340 million years ago, it was 100 million years after that the dinosaur started to roam the earth. When you’re working with stone, the one thing you will learn is you have to have patience. If you go too fast or too soon you’ll chip you’ll knock lumps out of it, you’ll end up having to grind it down again and bring it right back so you have to be steady, you know, the other thing is you have to work hard at it you have to put the hours into it. It’s so old people ask me is it durable, I say yeah it is pretty durable and if you do something really good you can be sure it will be there for a couple of hundred years at the very least and possibly a thousand years, there’s something absolutely brilliant about that. When you look at the fossils in the limestone you’re looking at creatures that existed like 300 million years ago, it’s something else. What inspired me really with Roscommon limestone, I remember when I was young I went to the Convent of Mercy and we lived in Goff Street we used to walk up the town every day myself and my brother used to walk me up, we used to pass the Church of Ireland, which is a Magnificent limestone building. We’d go up past the courthouse which is another amazing building then on to the Sacred Heart Church. The spire and the actual craftsmanship that’s in it and durability of it and the style of it, everything was perfect in it, but my favorite piece of Roscommon Church is actually the grotto at the front of it. It’s water cut limestone it’s rugged, it’s made to look like a cave. I remember myself and my brother standing there and we’d have all kinds of stories about this is a cave and there’d be monsters in and this and that, but the actual cavernous look of it, it was so natural in it’s setting it was absolutely brilliant. To me this is a piece of art. I’m a Roscommon man through and true, like I’ve been away, I was away for 14/15 years and back in Roscommon now I’m delighted I’m back in Roscommon. I am really proud that – that my sculpture will be put in Roscommon Square. It will be there for hopefully a couple hundred years. It makes me feel really proud, really good.

  • being a carpenter, I couldn't help but notice him using a carpenters hammer. Wood is nice but there is nothing more awesome as a stone building.

  • I normally work with relatively soft sandstone,which makes your choice of stone look like hard work, but then again if you want easy stick to plastecine .

  • Your video was truly inspirational. I have just started to teach myself to cut letters in stone, and your approach to the medium is encouraging me to "have a go'. Thanks Mark. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future. My local quarry produces Hornton blue stone.

  • Great video . I could watch it 10 x and never get bored. You seem like a nice honest hard working man and I love how you let the boy help, just like your dad did. That is very important.

  • I've worked in the stone game 15 years…at the start I was just interested in the stone…after a while I realised all the people I worked with were the real reason I was there….I still love the stone and the buildings but the people have enriched my life greatly…creative, spirited and proudly odd….
    Cheers Mark

  • Un gran artista que entrega al mundo lo más puro del ser humano. Absolutamente admirable. Gracias. También gracias al ayudante del escultor, como así también a quienes hicieron éste video.

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