Betsy Williams

Rift Gallery

2021 seems like a good year to do things differently.

Sax Stone Carving Workshop in 2021For the previous twenty years, we have hosted two or three stone carving classes in New Mexico each summer. Guest instructors and guest artists from across the globe would be flown in to teach. Students from all over would sign up to come and learn. While our largest classes were comparatively small (about thirty participants per session), the pandemic has caused us to try a different approach this year.

Last year, we had big plans for our 20th annual stone carving classes. The pandemic had other ideas. As the severity of the lockdown measures increased, we watched our enrollment numbers decrease, one by one, until only a handful of students from within state remained. Guest instructors stayed home. Out of state students asked for a refund or a carry-over of tuition. We gave serious thought to canceling altogether, but decided instead to host small classes for those in-state students who had not canceled. Safe physical spaces were demarcated by surveyor’s tape. Lunches were boxed. It was certainly not the 20th Anniversary celebration we had anticipated – there were no commemorative tee-shirts, no evening barbecue parties — but we and the students were especially appreciative of the quiet camaraderie and spent seven days concentrating on projects with respectful interaction when needed. With the trend in business moving toward consolidation and increase, we learned that going the other direction, toward smallness and the human scale, has plenty to offer. And because we are a mom-and-pop operation, change is relatively easy to implement. 

In 2020 we also expanded how we think about continuing the traditions of stone carving. During these last 12 months, long-time student, Roger Murphy, and workshop founder and director, Mark Saxe, have initiated a blog delving into the rich history of the stone carving program at St. John the Divine in New York City. Two of our guest instructors – Nicholas Fairplay and Joseph Kincannon – were deeply involved in the Cathedral’s carving program for over a decade, and this project grew out of a recognition that such an important chapter in the story of stone carving in the US was not fully documented. With a goal of compiling a book, Roger and Mark have reached out to photographers, apprentice stone carvers, church leaders, and anyone associated with the carving of the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.

Roger posts a weekly entry with photographs and text at www.


So here we are, a year later. We’ve continued to adapt and have discovered that change can be our ally.

Rather than our typical two classes with guest instructors flown in from out of state and about 25 students each, we are offering five smaller courses, with enrollment in each limited to ten. We kick off the season with a tool making class. Not only can students sign up for a week of carving, they can start out by learning to make their own chisels. New this year are two ‘Come and Carve’ sessions – each seven days – in which students have the time and space to work on their own in the company of others, with knowledgeable staff instructors always near at hand. The first Come and Carve Session is suggested for beginners, with more advanced students using this week to continue work on their ongoing projects. The two Open Studio sessions alternate with a Figure Carving Class taught by Schuyler Blanchard (NM) and a Traditional Carving Class taught by Fred X. Brownstein (VT). 

Since we founded the workshops in 2001, one tenet that has not changed is that we try to accommodate everyone  —young and old, male and female, Republican and Democrat, religious and secular; in other words, people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and income levels. The results, with a few hiccups, have been remarkable. We have seen a New York City female executive work alongside a deeply religious businessman from the South, both relishing their love of stone with no conflict over differences. Young men and women in their 20s and 30s, still finding their way in the world and living on a dime, find common ground with successful retirees — both seeking the meaning that comes from seeing a stone take shape. The workshop space is governed by true democratic principles. Unlikely friendships are formed and diverse individuals come together through a love of stone carving. All we ask is that students do their best and are serious about learning. 

In short, there’s no better way to get out of your bubble than to come and chisel away at a stone. 

Subjects covered in the classes include:  Safety, Basic Geology of Carving Stone, Tool Selection and Care, How to Begin a Carving, Measuring Techniques, Power Tool Safety and Use, Drilling, Mounting, Polishing, and Rigging.

For more information visit .

Schedule of Classes:

Tool Making with Petro Hul
April 14-16

Come and Carve  May 1-7

Figure Carving with Schuyler Blanchard  May 22-28

Come and Carve Week
July 17-23

Traditional Carving with
Fred X. Brownstein  August 9-15

We offer work scholarships and financial aid. If you love stone and want to learn, we will find a way to accommodate your needs. We follow all New Mexico  state protocols for COVID-19 safety, including physical distancing, mask wearing, and proof of negative test results and/or vaccination. 

Everyone’s well-being is paramount.