Peter J. Marcucci

Special Correspondent

A captivated audience listens as Ton Kalle explains the many steps involved in large-scale granite sculptingIt was a late August morning when I turned the car into the University of Maine, Orono campus. The 2012 Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium was now in the final stage of its six weeks duration.     

Motoring towards the work area, I, like most visitors, was immediately spellbound by the reflection of trees that cast their early fall images into the Stillwater River—a fitting and inspirational background for the sculptures that stood along the shoreline. 

Symposium sculptor Ton Kalle of the Netherlands concentrates on wet polishing – while also working on his tan in Maine’s pure morning sunNow parked, I could hear a symphony of chisels and grinders that were playing in concert, and within seconds of stepping out of the car, I realized I had not just stepped onto a parking lot filled with artists and spectators. I had stepped into a world of imagination, creativity and perseverance where intense eyes and minds obsessed with creation, incessantly guide steel chisels into hard stone, fleshing out the image that lies hidden within the block. And as the muscles bulged and the sweat flowed, so flowed the skill through the loving hands that held these tools of creation—torrents of dust floated, and the chips fell to the ground.

Originating in Austria, the first symposium took place in an abandoned marble quarry in 1959. Noting great success by its founders, the symposium continued throughout Europe and Asia giving its artists the opportunity to gain new skills and techniques, as well as enriching their worldly perspective by experiencing new customs and cultures from that year’s hosting country. 

With great resolve and intent, sculptors Lee Zih-Cing, Taiwan; Shan-Chi Teng, Taiwan; and Koichi Ogino of Japan, labor to reveal the image that exists within the stone.In its present biennial form, the first and second Schoodic International Sculpture Symposiums were held in the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park in Maine in 2007 and 2009. It was then moved in 2011 to Prospect Harbor, Maine, a town located on the Schoodic Peninsula. Currently, this year’s Symposium, capably led by Project Director Ms. Tilan Langley and Art Director Mr. Jesse Salisbury, totaled 176 applicants from 54 countries around the globe. 

The selection of the final eight artists is a long arduous process that’s based on previous work in stone, and all are selected by a panel of curators from Maine museums, past participating artists, and art professionals.

The symposium then offers a six week artist and residency program along with a stipend to cover living expenses while the artists are working.

There is no judging, and no prizes are awarded. It is a great opportunity for the artists to further hone their already high skill levels while working alongside other accomplished artists, and a chance to create a major work of public art to be displayed in Maine. 

Inch by inch, sculptor Shan-Chi Teng of Taiwan chips ever deeper towards the completion of his multi-angle contribution to the symposiumThis year’s symposium is different, according to Jesse Salisbury. It is the first time the University of Maine has hosted the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium, and from all indications it has been a grand success.

“It’s been really great working with the University art department this time around,” Jesse remarked. “It’s the perfect environment in which the artists can excel, and as a plus, the University has also helped us develop our artist assistant program. Assistants basically live and work with the artists they are assisting. Most assistants are either art school students or art department faculty. It’s a great opportunity for them to work on large-scale sculptures that won’t fit into a smaller studio. It’s really a mind expanding experience for them to be able to work with some of the world’s best sculptors, while learning techniques that aren’t being taught in this country.”

With only one week to go, Project Director Tilan Langley dons boots, apron, and ear protection to assist sculptor Ton Kalle in the final phase of polishingAll projects are created using cubic material quarried from ten possible sources within Maine. There are shades of gray, pink and lavender, as well as black basalt or gabro, a dark green or gray rock chemically equivalent to basalt. All colors do vary to some degree.

Some artists choose to utilize basalt boulders or other glacial erratics found in local gravel pits, while others may opt to use multiple colors in one sculpture.

The artists are allowed to choose the design and size of their project and are taken to a variety of quarries and pits for the final choice of stone. 

 Sculptor Andreas Von Huene of Maine gently employs the raw power of a handheld two-stroke for heavy stock removalThis year’s artists are using materials quarried from Freshwater Stone’s Mosquito Mountain Quarry; JC Stone, which operates seven quarries statewide; Sullivan Granite; and American Granite, which quarries Deer Isle granite. This year, most of the 100-150 tons of stone used have been donated, totaling approximately $30,000 dollars. Total cost of the whole event comes in at around $340,000 dollars and is funded by the goodness of the local communities, fundraising, and by the generous grants from donors and municipalities who see the bigger picture. 

Sculptor Andreas Von Huene (at right) grinds and shapes a curve, while assistant Richard Reichenbach wet polishes this massive undertaking of smooth and elegant designWhen the projects are complete, the communities that did the fundraising are responsible for finding the final locations for placement such as national, state, or city parks or libraries within Maine. According to Jesse, this year’s symposium is much improved over previous years’ events  partly because getting the equipment on the ground was much easier now that a container affectionately know as SIAB (Sculptor In A Box) has been employed. 

SIAB houses all the electric and air tools, including compressors, that the artists and helpers need in the course of the day. “Just get it on the ground and add three-phase electric,” Jesse said, “and you’re in business. And when the doors open, watch out. They come out like Marines with the tools of the day in their hands. It’s high energy, and this is the only event in America that does it at this scale.”

It was now early afternoon, and after a short break for food and camaraderie, the relentless pursuit continued and the symphony began again. And like any well-played symphony, all within earshot experienced the “Mozart effect,” inspiring brilliance and creativity. With a push-pull effect, the artists had again been seduced by the image that lay within the stone, drawing them in – while drawing out their finest efforts. 

Time once again had become insignificant. With senses fully switched on, they could see and hear and feel the tools that enabled them to render with passion the image they had been pursuing for the past five weeks. And as the cutting and polishing continued, again the muscles bulged and the sweat flowed with the hammers striking the chisels obsessively, passionately, and nothing else mattered while the chips fell. 

I stood back and paused, captivated by the montage of images now etched in my mind. I recalled saying, “beauty is as beauty does,” then turned and walked away blissfully, knowing that this treasure trove of new works of art when finished, will become part of a public collection to be placed in areas throughout Maine for young and old to admire for many years to come. 

As for the future, both Tilan Langley and Jesse Salisbury think that continued cooperation will exist between the University of Maine and the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium even though the event may not always be held there.

“The symposium shows the development and collaboration between the artists, the school and the community. It is our dream that ambitious artists will continue to create major pieces of public art in Maine. We’ve been so well supported by the stone industry and communities and have planned five symposiums over the next ten years, and we genuinely look forward to the next one.”

So by now you may be wondering, will the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium be coming to a town near me? Well, maybe. That is, if you live in Maine. Exactly where is anybody’s guess at this point. Suffice it to say, “let the chips fall where they may.” 

This year’s artists are: Ton Kalle, Netherlands; Lee Zih-Cing, Taiwan; Koichi Ogino, Japan; Hwang Seung-Woo, Republic of Korea; Tim Shay, Old Town, Maine; Shan-Chi Teng, Taiwan; Johnny Turner, New Zealand; Andreas Von Huene, Woolwich, Maine. 

Peter J. Marcucci has over 25 years of fabrication experience in the stone industry. Send any comments to