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7 The Quarry and the Sculptor

Michelangelo spent months in the quarries of Carrara while choosing his stone. Sculptors and architects in the past made it their business to know a great deal about stone so that they would be sure to get what they needed. Knowledge of the quarry for an artist is not just self- defense; it prolongs the creative moment. This was knowledge easier to gain in the past than it is today, when truly knowledgeable quarry workers are increasingly rare, and quarry access restricted.


Cave Michaelangelo and Ministravia quarry owner Franco Barratini demonstrates the translucence of his statuario marble. This marble was reputed to be the material of Michaelangelo's David.   Ministravia quarry, Carrara, ItalyArtisan Ugo Giannini works on a Kan Yusada sculpture in the Giorgio Angeli Studio, Pietrasanta, Italy


It is possible today for a designer (or artist for that matter) to not know how to make the object he has designed. That task is left to the more menial laborers. The complexity of technology may contribute to this but it does parallel some earlier situations such as the industry that developed after the pointing machine came into use. The artists made clay sketches and the artisans would make the sculptures. Whether such a relationship frees the artist to be more creative and produce better art or not is not clear. The situation can make the technician or artisans feel as if they are the ones actually doing the work. Although use of assistants is widespread and universally accepted, it is still a tricky business.

Ambivalence (even subconscious rivalry) between the quarry workers and the client can result in delivery of stones that technically fulfill the specifications of the order (i.e. proper dimensions, color, etc) but are still an unsatisfactory choice. It may actually take experience to even see a difference. One stone might look like another but behave differently. It is said that Whitbed Portland is a better building stone for outdoor use than the Basebed Portland. The quarryman would know, but to others they might look the same. Quarrymen[lb14] have extraordinary skills in identifying what would be invisible to most others.

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