Tag Archives: stone carving

Two Favorites

I visited the city on Wednesday, August 9, the city being my city, Philadelphia. My husband had a meeting at his downtown office and I decided to take the ride in and go look around.

It was a beautiful day. I rarely go into Philadelphia anymore, but for many years I was here every day – I worked in several different locations (for the same employer) in Center City and in the historic district. I also drove all over the place for my job, so I know a lot about the entire city; but it’s the hub of things I want to talk about today.

On this walk, I visited two of my favorite art pieces, both public art. I’ll show you a little bit and then, if you are interested, you can find more info on the internet or…you can visit Philadelphia!

All right. We’ll start with some relief sculptures on this building.

It’s the US Courthouse (now Robert C Nix Federal Building) and the William Penn Annex of the post office. The building is quite large – it extends a half block on Market Street and goes all the way through the block to Chestnut Street.

The reliefs I am interested in are along the 9th street facade. They were the work of Edmond Amateis and commissioned by the government through the WPA to ornament this 1930’s building.

They depict mail delivery and show it taking place in far-flung locations. I have always loved these sculptures for their style and beauty, and for the idea that mail delivery unites the world, with people working hard to get a letter where it needs to go.

Here they are: they are arranged in two pairs. You will notice a difference in the look of the reliefs – two were in the sun and two in shadow.

First, the cowboy and the city postman:

Next, mail delivery in the tropics and in the far north:

Every time I am in the neighborhood I stop to take a look. For more information look here.


Now, my other favorite. It’s Dream Garden, a huge mosaic located in the lobby of the Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut Streets, right next to the Independence Hall complex. I worked in a building around the corner for some time and when I needed a respite, I’d come over and visit the mural.

It was designed by Maxfield Parrish and created by the Tiffany studios. Many many small pieces of glass, iridescent, opaque, all glowing. It was installed in 1916 in this building, at the time the home of Curtis Publishing (Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post). The building itself is fascinating and beautiful, but I am showing you just the mosaic today.

As a note – there are a lot of pictures on the internet, better than mine – here is its official entry by its owner, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The mosaic was almost lost to the city about 20 years ago, when its owner died and the heir proposed selling it to a Las Vegas casino. In a complicated transaction with public donations and the cooperation of other beneficiaries under the will, the mosaic became the property of PAFA and is now protected as a historic object.

I noticed some “band-aids” on the mosaic that were not there when I last saw it.

A bit of research told me that construction elsewhere in the building had shaken the structure a year ago and damaged the mosaic. I can’t find details on what the restoration plan is, except that it is being studied for repair. I feel better knowing it is in the care of a museum, at least. Anyway, my pleasure was not diminished by the “band-aids”.

All right, now you’ve seen them. My favorites.


Art Camp Day 3 – August 3

I’m at “art camp”. This very select camp caters only to me. What luxury! A nice way to try out some new activities at the end of summer, isn’t it?

All right. Today’s activity was stone-carving. I’ll give you some background first.

Maybe ten or more years ago, I did a bit of concrete sculpting. A lot, actually. I made mosaic stepping-stones and other items as well, but sculpting was the most rewarding to me. I used the technique of mixing the concrete, pouring it into containers such as milk cartons, cardboard boxes, etc., and letting it set up for several hours. Then I stripped away the form and carved the wet concrete with a variety of tools, including steak knives, grapefruit spoons, etc. Sometimes I incorporated my tile work into the pieces. Here are a few examples:

Concrete is demanding, though. It has to be done outside, I need to be around for the whole day, more or less, and it is really hard on the skin, even with gloves. Usually I made a lot of items at once so as to make the labor and trouble of mixing concrete worth it, and that meant working fast.

Also, the supplies come in large quantities – for a 3:1 mix of sand to cement, that means several bags of sand and a 90 lb. bag of cement. Additionally, cement starts to lose its powderiness when the bag is opened, clumping in small lumps on its way to becoming one big lump as the contents are exposed to the moisture of everyday life. It needs to be used fairly quickly – you don’t hold on to a bag of cement for years. Another reason for making a lot of items in a short time.

On the other hand, I liked the process and the results I got in the concrete. So, I was wondering if stone carving might work instead. I could still be carving a sculpture but with less labor, stress, and mess.

So I looked into it and ordered a little kit from Dick Blick. It contained three pieces of stone, soapstone and alabaster, each the size of — a bar of soap. There were some tools, a couple of rasps and a knife; and a dust mask. I took all of these items out to my back yard and set up on a table.

After examining the tools and putting on the dust mask, I got to work. I found the stone to be easily scratched; the rasps all made marks very readily. It also had no lumps or flaws to catch the tools, as sometimes happens in concrete.

However, as I worked away, I also found that progress was slow. The rasps cut away stone in tiny amounts, creating a fine white powder. I needed to use a good amount of force, more than my hands were happy about. It took a lot of work to get rid of the squarish look of the stone and I don’t think I really succeeded in making the person-figure I wanted.

At the end of the project, I washed the stone and oiled it with some from the little bottle provided in the kit. I am sorry to say that if I want to carve, stone carving leaves me cold. I do think I would have done better to have had a saw or the like to cut away bigger pieces and get more quickly to the shape I wanted. A better selection of tools is a necessity.

But I am disappointed in the lack of contrast (I am sure my carving skills are responsible, as I think there needs to be more relief) and also – I just didn’t enjoy the feel of the stone, how I had to handle it to work, and so on. Intangibles, but important, if I’m doing this for pleasure.

So here is the final figure. I think I could improve her, but I don’t want to put the effort in. I am not sure why, in the oiled version, she looks like her chest has had bad cosmetic surgery – I made no changes from what you see in the last picture, #5, ¬†above. Sigh.

My son has said he might be interested in trying some stone carving – so, that’s good! I can give him the kit and let him see what he comes up with.