Sculpture ‘signifies Sylacauga as the Marble City’
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – The community admiringly watched it take shape on the lawn of City Hall for months, and now “Sylacauga Emerging” is complete.

The marble sculpture by artist Craigger Browne was dedicated Thursday in a service hosted by the Arts Council, the Marble Festival Committee and the city.

Browne said he is humbled and overwhelmed to be part of Sylacauga’s efforts to revive its marble industry.

“This city has so much to be proud of in terms of its history and what it’s trying to do with marble,” Browne said. “I can’t tell you how honored I am to be part of this process. I hope someday (the sculpture) will become a small symbol of where you’ve been as you grow in the future.”

The nearly 10-foot tall, 11,000-pound sculpture, made of Sylacauga marble from the Alabama Marble Quarry, depicts a stone carver forming himself out of a raw marble block. Browne said it is meant to represent Sylacauga’s rediscovery in stone through its recent efforts to market its white marble.

“The pride that everyone has for the heritage and the history and the stone is unbelievable, so we decided to go with a concept along those lines,” Browne said. “This was the first idea, and everything kept pointing back to it.”

The sculpture represents the city’s history and future in marble, Browne said. The carver’s tools, which have been used in quarries for centuries, signify the generations of families that made their living working with Sylacauga marble. The raw stone portion shows there is both room for growth and the potential for balance between marble’s industrial and stone block uses.

Browne, a Birmingham native with work in five of the world’s seven continents, spent the last year planning and sculpting the piece. In April, “Sylacauga Emerging” was placed at its permanent location, where Browne could be seen almost daily fine-tuning the details of the sculpture until completing his work last month.

Although he was initially hesitant about working in front of an audience, Browne said it turned out to be a blessing.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people stopped by and told stories about their families that worked in the quarries,” he said. “It was a distraction in the sense of completing the piece, but then I came to the realization of who this piece was really for. It’s not for the Arts Council or the mayor’s office or any one group; it’s for everyone in Sylacauga, everyone that lives here or drives by.”

Marble Festival director Ted Spears said the sculpture “signifies Sylacauga as the ‘Marble City’” and has helped multiply the reach of the Marble Festival, which will be held for the sixth time next April. The Marble Committee recently met with Auburn University representatives who will help promote next year’s festival in various ways, and Sylacauga’s marble is also being featured in the award-winning documentary series “Discovering Alabama.”

Bob Karell, plant manager at OMYA, Inc, which funded “Sylacauga Emerging,” noted marble’s expanding industrial purposes in addition to its use as art.

“There are new uses being found for marble all the time,” he said. “It’s a good substitute for higher cost materials, and it’s a green way to replace petrochemicals. While other industries have come and gone in Sylacauga, marble continues to attract new businesses. It’s good for the local economy; it provides stable jobs. It’s great that Sylacauga welcomes that sort of thing.”

As for Browne’s future, he is continuing work at Sylacauga’s City Shop, sculpting a “Madonna and Child” piece for a Birmingham church. Browne said he has several other opportunities lined up, but for now, he is humbled to have completed the city’s latest work of art.

“It’s even better than I imagined it would turn out,” he said. “I have not had one bad experience in Sylacauga. It’s just been wonderful.”

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© 2012