Basalt Enshrined




    I really love these basalt stones. They are so impressive just as they are that it is difficult to carve into them. With this dilemma in mind it occurred to me to make a shrine to them, and what’s a more fitting medium for the shrine than basalt itself?

    If you are interested in taking a short look at the motivation for this work and you have not already read it, it can be found on the Home Page under the main menu button About in the section of my bio entitled “Inspiration for my art”.

    That write up is an attempt to address an observation from a friend that I needed to include in this web site more of my intense love of nature in general and these stone in particular. I think he rightfully saw the significance of that in me and how it fits into the whole reason I am so desperately trying to express something with my art.

    Maybe that expansion in the bio will make the following more vibrant because I do feel those connections with life intensely and want to do something that equally expresses those feelings here.

    The basalt enshrined piece here is one of the two I am highlighting as an expression of those feelings. I had sculpted several basalt pieces before this one and was thinking about the next one while working on small clay mockups. I am very careful with what I do with these basalt columns because they are naturally so powerful, unique and beautiful. It is difficult to choose what to try to do that will come close to a valid impingement on their natural beauty. It occurred to me to try to express the feeling I have for these stones and their close relative, granite. What seemed to be appropriate was to honor that respect by creating a shrine to the majesty of the stone itself and, as I said above, what could be a more appropriate medium for that shrine than a basalt stone itself?



    Here is my attempt to enshrine these stones. To really get the total effect of this shrine it helps to be standing by it. But in lieu of that let me describe it a little. The final piece is six feet tall and weighs over a ton. This first photo highlights the focus of the piece, the natural untouched central portion of the stone with the weathered earthy exterior and the dark freshly exposed natural interior. All of the remainder of the two stones forms the structure of the shrine for this highlighted central portion.


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    The carving on the shrine portion consists of highly polished and naturally weathered surfaces forming a bit of grotto (as shown in these 90 degree views).


    To get started I chose these two stones and set them at a rather precarious angle to give the piece some energy and allow the top portion to project out over the part of the basalt that is to be highlighted.



    OK now for the carving: First, to shorten the bottom stone, I used expanding cement in predrilled holes along the plane I wanted to be the fracture plane.


     I set the two stones up again at the angle where I wanted them to ultimately rest.


    Then they were carefully marked. It is really important to get a perfect plane on these two mating surfaces to insure stability in the final assembly.

    I decided to use three stainless steel pins to join the two stones.  Although this sounds straightforward, it can only be assembled properly if all three holes in each of the two surfaces (6 holes altogether) are perfectly spaced and parallel.

    I made a special tool to accurately hold the hammer drill for precise spacing and alignment during the drilling operations on the mating surfaces of the top and bottom piece.


    Note that the top piece needed to be inverted and held carefully because it was already roughed out (And I do mean roughed out because earlier the scary part of exposing the naturally broken surfaces, the very focal point of the piece, had to be done with careful yet energetic sledgehammer blows). I needed to know the roughing out was successful before going to the effort of drilling the pinning holes.

    A bit of an aside yet I feel significant enough to share,was the wholesome experience of seeing the first light reflected off the surfaces which had been unexposed for all those many eons. I point this out because perhaps the stone showed it’s gratitude by fracturing perfectly straight,smooth and symmetrically on all three sides while making it’s debut.


     The black part is the new alignment tool and the yellow thing is a laser level (you can borrow these tools if you want). As you can see this was as much an engineering challenge as an art project.


     This photo has its own story. Finally, the day came when the assembly of the two stones would validate the success of all this planning and effort. I was carefully easing the two pieces together and they stopped, along with my heart (I know this a highly repeated phrase but probably accurate). After jiggling them around for what seemed like my very own eternity, the phone rang. When I came shuffling back, visualizing starting over, I just jiggled it one more time, released more pressure on it again, and it went ONNNN.


     There it is at last, amidst the other pieces in the yard of my studio, retiring in a modest shadow.