Materials for Stone Carvings... Given enough time, patience, and the right tools and technique, stone carvings can be made from pretty much any stone. However, some stones are far better suited than others for carving. Throughout history, marble has been the one of the favorite materials of stone carvers for carving both stone sculptures in-the-round and stone reliefs. It comes in many colors and has just the right balance of strength, hardness and softness. Stone carvings are made using harder stones such as granite, verde antique, and basalt, but it is virtually impossible to obtain the detail in these materials that is possible in marble stone carvings. Additionally, there are considerable health hazards associated when carving such stones. Softer stones such as alabaster and soapstone are also commonly carved. They are often spectacularly beautiful and come in many colors, but suffer from being soft and weak. Consequently, marble is considered by many to be the stone of choice for carving. It should be noted that when placed outdoors in an environment with acid rain and frost, marble and alabaster carvings will not last as long as the harder stones or strangely enough, soapstone. Although with treatment and proper design, marble stone carvings will hold up pretty well.
All of my stone carvings are in marble or dolomite, a closely related stone. Marble is basically calcium carbonate - what your bones and teeth are made of. In dolomite some of the calcium has been replaced with magnesium. This typically results in a harder stone. Below are descriptions and examples of the different stones that I work with when creating stone carvings.
Champlain Black Marble
This marble is quarried on Isle LaMotte, an island in northern Lake Champlain, VT, and is often called Radio City Black Marble because of its extensive use in the Radio City Music Hall in NYC. It is a medium hard marble that was formed from limey sediments deposited approximately 450 million years ago during the Ordovician Period in a shallow sea. As a result, numerous fossils, including Gastropods and Crinoid stems, are often found in the stone. I particularly like this stone because by altering the surface finish I can obtain a wide range of tones, from almost black to nearly white. Below are two examples of stone carvings using the stone: Sloop Rondina, a stone relief sculpture and Puffin, a marble sculpture in-the-round.
Champlain Black (Marble/Limestone)
21 x 19 x 4 in.
West Rutland Marble
This marble comes from West Rutland, Vermont. Unfortunately the quarry was shut down about 30 years ago and now has some 300 feet of water in it. Consequently, it is getting difficult to obtain nice pieces of stone. Being soft and porous, it is unsuitable for outdoor placement. Its coloration is typically a creamy base color with varying amounts of green streaks. The marble Polar Bear below is carved in a typical example of the stone.
West Rutland Marble
11 x 24 x 10 in.
Danby White Marble
Danby White Marble, quarried in Danby, VT is the most readily available local marble. It is hard, durable, and a nice carving and architectural stone. Its base color is a brilliant white with varying amounts of gray and gold streaks in it. Below is an image of the stone relief sculpture, Katrina, in Danby White Marble.
Danby White (Marble)
29 x 35 x 2½ in.
Swanton Red Dolomite
The last stone that I work with regularly is Swanton Red. I have a love hate relationship with this stone. The stone is quarried only intermittently in the town of Swanton in northern Vermont. Not only is the stone hard to obtain, it is very difficult to work. The stone is actually a dolomite, a magnesium-calcium carbonate. It is much harder than traditional marble, brittle, and of variable hardness. Often one finds chert (amorphous quartz) inclusions in the rock. These often break out of the stone during carving or alternatively they break your chisel. Every piece I have carved out of Swanton red has destroyed more than one carbide chisel. Then, to top it off, once the chiseling is done and the sculpture is ready for polishing the real nightmare begins. The stone is extremely difficult to polish to a high gloss. In spite of all of these difficulties I still work the stone - As the photograph below shows, it is stunningly beautiful and well worth the effort.
Swanton Red (Dolomite)
19 x 14 x 9 in.
I have also worked with Tennessee Pink Marble and a British Columbia Blue Marble. Both of these are very hard, strong stones which can be used for stone carvings.
Further examples of stone carvings can be viewed in the gallery of marble sculptures.