Peter J. Marcucci

Special Contributor

“Blue Heron” Photos by Tilan Copson, Additional photos by Peter J. Marcucci

Hover over photos to read caption

After many weeks of hard work, Lise Becu proudly stands next to the finished “Blue Heron” she carved at the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium in Prospect Harbor, Maine. The Blue Heron now sits in the town of Addison, Maine.Few women can make the claim: musician, writer, painter, sketch artist, wife, mother and sculptor, and it’s the latter that brought me to Tenant’s Harbor, Maine, and the front door of Lise Becu.           

With just a few weeks remaining to the project deadline, Lise dons safety mask and ear protection, to bring out the final image that resides within the stone.And when welcomed through that door by Lise, I was immediately struck by a mélange of shapes, sizes and colors.

Every wall of the log home held an eclectic trove of paintings, models, books, antiques, photographs and history.

Then, within minutes, charmed by Lise’s hospitality and conversation and hot green tea, I asked, “So where did it all begin?” Lise paused—and with a mind full of resolution, began framing the narrative of her life, beginning with her childhood.

On the day of my visit, Lise was busy bringing out the details in this stone sheep. According to her, this sculpture is from a block of the same black granite used to make the Blue Heron crafted at the 2011 Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium.“I grew up on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. When I was six years old, I received an award for a drawing I had made. There wasn’t much where I grew up. No library, no museum, no nothing.” 

It sounds very rural. Had you been receiving any art training at that age?

A collage of characters fleshed out over the years from the mind of Master Sculptor Lise Becu. “No, I really didn’t have art classes till I went to high school. I just did it on my own. Then a door-to-door salesman came by and was offering an art class by correspondence. It was a painting course.

I was around 13 or 14. They gave me these big books and materials so I could do my lessons.

I would send them off to New York, and a famous artist would critique the work and send it back and say you need to do this, this, and this.

I then had my first show with a girlfriend of mine when I was fourteen. We rented a place. It was the community hall.” 

And what town was the art show in?

A back yard collection of original works by Lise first greet all who approach her front door. “I sell, fairly small, intimate sculptures that somebody can have by their door or in their garden.” “In the town of Chandler where I grew up. That was 1970. It was pretty exciting. I think I sold a couple of pieces.” 

Are you a Canadian citizen?

A back yard collection of original works by Lise first greet all who approach her front door. “I sell, fairly small, intimate sculptures that somebody can have by their door or in their garden.” “Yes, I am. I’ve been living in Maine all these years, but I’m still Canadian. I can’t vote, but I’ve got everything else. My daughter lives in Canada with my grandchild.” 

So you have one daughter. Is she an artist also?

“No. She works in the music industry for a music publishing company in Montreal. Her husband is an audio video technician. Right now he is touring with musician Brian Adams, a Canadian pop star. He does the video behind him. He’s pretty cool. 

“So, I didn’t finish high school, and I had no credits to graduate after eleventh grade, so I went to an art college that accepted me, but I didn’t like it very much. I just used their studios and I made art, but I didn’t go to class.” 

What was the name of it?

“It was C.E.G.E.P. de Riviere du Loup. I didn’t graduate, but that’s where I met a bunch of artists. One woman that I had met made this beautiful wood carved cover for a book she had. It was a relief carving, and I was very inspired by that and tried my hand at wood carving. She also told me there was a little school up the road called Ecole de Sculpture sur Bois in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. They used to carve church furniture, and it had become an art school. It was a mixture of traditional and contemporary and quite interesting. Most everybody in the little town did arts and crafts. So I went there. The school was a total immersion and fun.”  

At the time your mom wanted you to be a secretary, right?

“Yeah! She said she was going to send the police after me, but she never did. She then said, ‘What are you going to do?’ and she sent me money to go to a secretarial school. My mother was mad when she found out that I didn’t go to school and went instead to Montreal. I was only 17. My poor mother. 

“When I had my first child I called her up and apologized for all the worry I had caused her.” With eyes welled up she laughs. “Years later I was paid back because my other daughter passed away. She was a punk—a street punk who traveled all around this country. I managed to keep her home until she was eighteen, but then she left and traveled around Canada and Mexico on freight trains and across borders with no papers. She then went to Europe and did the same. That’s where she passed away. That was in 2004. She gave me gray hairs. She was quite something.” 

So when did you begin carving stone?

“While in school, I met an American from New York, and we got married and we moved here to Maine in 1977. We lived across from an old quarry and quarry owner’s house in Tenant’s Harbor, and there was a lot of stone carving tools left behind, so I started banging on stone. It was really hard to get into it at first because I was used to wood.” 

Big difference.

“Yeah. So, I slowly started carving stone because it can be left outside and doesn’t rot or crack; there’s no ants, and you don’t have to put a finish on it. Stone sculpture then became my biggest selling item because people really liked that they could put them outside in the garden all year round and didn’t have to keep them in the house. They became more popular, and I just enjoyed making them and it became the natural flow of things.” 

They were small sculptures?

“Pretty small— very much like what I make now.” 

Animals or people?

“They were animals and people. I can show you if you want. I’ve been doing them for almost forty years and didn’t stop except when I was pregnant.” 

And you continued using local (Maine) material?

“Yes, local material. Whatever was around, but I much prefer granite—especially black granite, although sometimes I use beach stones. I’m not sure what the composition of the stone is most times, but if it’s as hard as granite, then I assume it is. Some have fine grains, some have really big grains.” 

Many artist I’ve talked to in the past carve limestone, statuary or alabaster, but when granite is mentioned, they’re like, “No Way!”

“Oh, yeah! Some artists are afraid of granite because it’s so hard, but I find types like alabaster more difficult because it’s so soft and fragile and easy to make a mistake. You have to be careful when you move it around so you don’t scratch it. Working with hard stone is just a mind-set and once you accept how hard it is—it doesn’t matter! It’s just a shock if you’re used to a soft stone and then all of a sudden you’re carving granite. You also have to have different tools.” 

So how do you begin a sculpture? 

“I find stones that have interesting shapes that trigger something in my imagination. I then draw on them and use my tools to bring out that drawing. I don’t cut off a lot of the stone. Most of the time I just use that shape. When I look at other artists, they tend to do more fabrication and cutting, but that’s not my style. I try to use the natural finish that has taken nature thousands of years to make. I can’t duplicate that texture, so I try to incorporate those parts of it into my designs.”  

Why do you carve?

“It makes me happy. It makes me very happy. Since I was a little kid my brothers used to call me the romantic, the emotional, the artist. We are humans and we appreciate each other’s art. It’s not necessarily practical, but it soothes the soul. If I’m not carving, I’m playing or working with clay from sketches.”

What else do you do?

“I’m also a musician.”

You’re a paid musician?

“Yes, my husband is the singer and guitar player, and I back him up with a fiddle. We play country blues.”

How long have you been playing? 

“I picked up the fiddle when I got pregnant and then bought one for fifty dollars and started to play. That was in 1980. Years later, I was gardening for a lady who was dying. She wanted to leave something behind so she had me plant incredible amounts of stuff around her yard like trees and shrubs. She would sit by the window and tell me what to plant where. She was a violin musician with two violins and one had a little patch on it. When she passed away they couldn’t auction it off because they weren’t sure about the repair and didn’t know what to do, so they gave it to me. It is a beautiful fiddle—it plays well. It was made in Germany in 1860, I think.” 

Lise now plays a CD from a jam session from the past and continues. “This is music we made when we lived in New Mexico. There were five of us. This year we are going into a recording studio in Camden, Maine. Rob, my husband, is also putting out a new album, but that’s another project. 

“I also have another project. Me and my neighbor are writing children’s books. I do the drawing and she does the lettering. We haven’t published yet and are still working on it. We have some good stories. There’s nothing like having a kid on your lap and reading a story to him, so there will always be a market for kids books, so that’s another project. For a few years I also did scenic painting in Portland, Maine for the Portland stage and Portland Ballet. I wasn’t the chief painter, I was the second painter.” 

You mean props and backgrounds?

“Yeah. That was fun—lots of fun. I’ve done all kinds of jobs, but these days, I stay at home and carve and sell just enough to get by.” 

Getting by can be pretty tough sometimes.

“My husband is a commercial fisherman and also hunts, so we eat a lot of deer meat and usually have a freezer full of shrimp and fish. We also have big gardens and chickens that give us fresh eggs. We are not quite self-sufficient, but I would love to be. I don’t make a lot of money, but we somehow manage. We keep our overhead low and we live very simply.” 

You were a participant in the 2011 Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium and carved a Blue Heron. Is the Schoodic Symposium different from other symposiums such as the ones held at J.C. Stone?

“Yes. The Schoodic Symposium is not just about sculpture. Every artist is sponsored by a town and that town gets very involved, including a town committee, the kids, the schools—everybody. It’s their sculpture. I’m just the one doing it. You don’t even have to make a drawing or have the sculpture approved. You send in your portfolio, and if they like it and you are selected, you then get to do whatever you want. 

“You do have to do something different, but still in the same genre. I do figures and animals and the majority of the townspeople said they wanted something figurative. 

“When I was working, all the kids would come from Addison and from my town and visit and they would have us over for supper. It’s really community art and bigger than just a sculpture. Everybody was so supportive and so pleasant. That was the best symposium, and I loved the black granite.” 

Sounds like you had good social action and it was very dynamic. 

“Oh, my God, it was amazing. It was just the best time. We lived at the old Stinson Canning Family home and it was right on Prospect Harbor, Maine. I had my own deck that looked out on the harbor and could watch the boats go out in the morning. We had a big kitchen, and we’d put all the tables end to end and made one long table. We all ate our meals and everybody helped to cook. We had great food.” 

Were you able to pick the quarry as well as select the stone? 

“Oh, yes! I had told Jesse Salisbury, the Art Director, that I wanted to work a piece of black granite and that the town of Addison, Maine, wanted a sculpture, but didn’t want an abstract. They wanted something that they could recognize, so we went to the Addison quarry and spent the whole day. 

“They brought a big crane and the chainsaws to clear all the brush because the quarry hadn’t been operational for a long time. We found this boulder that didn’t have too many cracks, and it took us all day to put it into Jesse’s dump truck. I was lucky to find a boulder that size.”

So you knew it was the stone that you were looking for, but did you know at that point what you were going to make out of it? 

“I do a lot of birds and I knew it was going to be a bird, but I wasn’t sure what kind. I also knew where the sculpture was going to be placed, which was by a marsh. I went and spent a lot of time at the marsh, and it was a blue heron that came to mind. 

“This is kind of a personal thing, but there was a young girl that had died near that spot around the same time I lost my daughter, so I wanted a very peaceful and benevolent sculpture. I saw...I’m gonna cry....

“I saw the mother there who was about my age—she had a little shrine set up at the place where her daughter had died, but I didn’t know what she was doing. I was just sitting and eating my sandwich and looking at the spot where my sculpture was going to be, and I saw her cleaning up and placing blue candles. I had assumed it was a memorial for men lost at sea. 

“After she left, I went and looked and saw it was for her daughter that was about the same age as mine. The people from the town didn’t know about that, but that was very moving to me.”

At the start of the Blue Heron, could you see the image you wanted, and were you sure of what it would look like when it was finished? 

“When I see an image, I see it pretty clearly, but you never know a hundred percent what can happen. When the crane picked up the stone with the slings, I had them keep rotating it until I told them to stop. It was a very uneven shape and I had to decide what way it would be sitting. 

“I had to choose one spot, and once the crane set it, it wasn’t going to move again. I had taken pictures of the stone and printed them out on paper and then got some big chalks like they use for drawing on the streets and drew my design on the stone, and from a distance it looked like it was already carved. 

“So from the beginning to the end of the symposium, the image was always there, and I made it finer and finer and finer with my grinders, bringing out all the details, and it worked. I never did anything that big, and I was excited. 

And there were some doubts, now and then, but I wasn’t afraid that I couldn’t do it. I was confident.”

Were you concerned that you might not be able to finish it within the allotted time?

“Yes—I worked alone, where as the other artist had assistants to do the splitting and the cutting, I did mine by myself. I couldn’t say to somebody ‘draw me a wing, draw me a face.’ They can’t do it because that’s not what they do, so I had to do it. Even when it comes down to polishing, a little bit of a flat spot will change the expression in the piece, so you can’t have somebody else do it.” 

Do people find it easy to accept the work you’ve created?

“People sometimes ask me if there’s a story and I say, ‘You create your own for whatever reason it attracted you.’ I don’t like to tell people what to think, so I don’t usually elaborate on the titles. I feel also that because I spent so much time on one rock, that there is a certain kind of energy that goes into it and it radiates out somehow.”  

Would you ever consider doing another Symposium?

“It’s a lot of work and high energy and I’m not that young. I might consider doing it again, but I don’t know if it could ever surpass the Schoodic Symposium in Prospect Harbor. It was like a big family where everybody was supportive of each other. I can see another symposium in my future—maybe next year in New Brunswick, Canada.” 

If you go to New Brunswick will you live there? 

“When you go, they put you up, they feed you, it’s almost like a vacation. It would be so much fun to go there and choose my stone and then with all the equipment they have, move it and be able to produce a large piece.” 

So, what are your plans for the future? I asked with great curiosity.

“As far as the future, I hope to keep on carving stone and hope to make a few more bigger pieces, but it would have to be in a symposium setting unless I get a big commission and can hire people to bring me stones and help move them around. 

“I hope the future is just like today, because things are going well and I’m able to enjoy my life and I’m able to make a living by carving. So, life is good and I just want more of the same. I’m also hoping I keep my health, because this work is very physically demanding. If I can’t carve stone anymore, I will be doing children’s books.” 

Lise Becu is known among her peers for being the “what she sees, is what she gets” artist, and she, like her peers, constantly strives to raise the level of the craft, incrementally, year after year. 

Currently her art is displayed at The Caldbeck Gallery, Rockland, Maine; The Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, as well as the June Lacombes Sculpture shows within Maine.

Peter J. Marcucci has over 25 years of fabrication experience in the stone industry. Send your comments to our Contacts page.