Etched From Stone

When we lived in Zimbabwe, I enjoyed visiting areas where local artists displayed their stone sculptures.  Whether working with serpentine or soapstone or another form of mineral, the Shona sculptors possessed the ability to carve people, animals and intricate shapes from rough pieces of rock that they then smoothed and polished into beautiful pieces of art.

Before we returned to Canada, I purchased a number of Shona sculptures of various sizes, designs and colours that captured my interest. While most of our sculptures are polished and completed, my favourites are the ones that feature rough stone on the outer edges, showcasing the rawness of the original rock.

My most treasured piece of stone art, however, is a small and unfinished sculpture that I found in a junk pile. From the rear, it looks like an ordinary rock that wouldn’t warrant a second glance, but when you turn it around, you can see the carving of a man emerging from a dark cave. There is something so simple but yet profoundly human about the carving despite the fact that it was never completed. I’ve often wondered if the artist felt he messed up the carving and then decided it wasn’t worth salvaging.

I’m drawn to a similar rawness in other people. When they come across as too polished and complete, I feel as though there is something artificial or manufactured about them. They’re nice to look at and admire, but I can only guess at how they became that way. I like to discover a bit of the rough stone that they’ve been etched from as this portrays a work of art that is authentic, alluring and unfinished.

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The Sculpture

I’ve never been good at drawing, painting or sculpting. My art class in Grade 8 was particularly stressful for me, as we needed to carve human faces onto the angled corners of a rectangle-shaped piece of clay. One of my classmates helped me create two intricate faces for my project, which included a detailed moustache. By helped, what I mean is that when he finished carving the faces for me, I took the sculpting knife and etched my name onto the bottom of the sculpture.

Later that school year, my parents brought the sculpture home from the school after a parent-teacher interview night. My mom loved this piece of art and displayed it proudly in our home. Every time I looked at it I would cringe and feel like a fraud. Despite telling my mom that someone else did the work, the sculpture remained, even 30 years later when my parents retired and moved into a smaller home.

Last year while visiting them, I helped the sculpture disappear. By helped, what I mean is that I threw it away in the garbage.

I should discard more things in my life that make me feel like a fraud as this was a liberating experience.

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