Children invited to take a ‘chip off the ol’ block’
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – A new Marble Festival program is giving children hands-on sculpting experience straight from those who know it best.

“Chip Off the Ol’ Block” is a children’s marble sculpting class instructed by Resident Sculptor Craigger Browne. During the roughly 30-minute session, Browne said kids learn basics about the stone, the sculpting process and what makes Sylacauga marble special.

“We’ll start with the geological side of how marble is formed,” Browne said, “then talk about how sculptors use the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic – in our artistic process. And then we get into the sculpting techniques and actually give the students some tools and let them take a few whacks at a piece of marble, which is always their favorite part for obvious reasons.”

Started last year, the program was drastically expanded for this year’s festivities with more than 350 local students scheduled to participate. Two “walk-up” sessions have been added this Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Blue Bell Park pavilion. These programs are open to the public and welcome to children starting at age 5.

“We were surprised at how well it went last year, so we knew this was something we wanted to grow over time,” said organizer and “Marble Maniac” Ginger Clifton. “The kids are attentive; they are learning a lot as he talks about the different rocks and what all is involved. They are fascinated. I saw high school football players who were mad about having to be out here, and then they came around once they got the tools in their hands and started using them. Their whole attitude changed, and you could see the excitement. It is thrilling to watch.”

After taking a swing at sculpting themselves, participants visit with the roughly 15 other visiting sculptors in town who are each working on a piece in Blue Bell Park during the festival. Children are invited to pick up their own chunk of Sylacauga marble. From there, the groups will travel to B.B. Comer Library where product samples from local industries that utilize marble are on display.

“We want to explain the artistic side, but also want students to see the marble works at the library and educate them about what’s being done in their own back yard so they can really see this is a big thing, and this city really is special,” Browne said.

Students from Pinecrest Elementary School, Sylacauga High School, Sycamore Elementary School and Knollwood Christian School are scheduled to attend the sessions thus far. Students are also learning more about marble in the classroom now that local schools have a marble curriculum created by the “Marble Maniacs,” a group of four friends – Clifton, Willa Dean Lewis, Glenda Rumsey and Joan Blocker – who also prepare the annual marble scavenger hunt.

Browne said he hopes to complement that curriculum through “Chip Off the Ol’ Block.”

“These students are really a blank slate right now as far as the marble history in their hometown, so I really want to hone in on what makes the marble here so unique and special, because it truly is.”

For more information about the festival, contact B.B. Comer Library at 256-249-0961 or the Mayor’s Office at 256-401-2424.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013