Cultural exchange a highlight of Marble Festival
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – Now in its fifth year, the message of the Marble Festival is beginning to spread far and wide, establishing Sylacauga as a hub of industrial and cultural growth.

Proof of its progress is seen under the dust-filled tents at Blue Bell Park, as about 20 visiting marble sculptors from various countries, backgrounds and levels of experience transform chunks of the city’s white stone into striking pieces of art.

“The quality of the sculptors is improving every year,” said resident sculptor Craigger Browne. “This year, everyone is really focused on completing their pieces, which is great, because it gives the community a chance to see the finished product.”

Browne, who instructed hands-on children’s sculpting classes throughout the two-week event, said he feels citizens are developing a sense of pride for Sylacauga’s rare marble.

“Working on (the ‘Sylacauga Emerging’ sculpture at City Hall), I felt there was almost a generational void where people had lost that feel for being the Marble City,” he said. “This is starting to bridge the gap and bring another generation up to past ones that worked at the quarries. It’s hard to identify with a bag full of marble slurry, but now you’re seeing these beautiful sculptures from sculptors all over the world, and people can identify with that, and that’s the biggest thing that’s being accomplished.”

Sculptor Bill Cook of Tennessee said the festival has become more organized and community-oriented since its start.

“I always enjoy coming here,” he said. “It’s unreal the ideas you pick up that you would have never considered. You learn about different tools, techniques, concepts, but the reason I come back is for the camaraderie. I like to collaborate and pick the brains of these unbelievably skilled sculptors.”

A high point of the festivities has been Italian master sculptor Roberta Giovannini, brought to Sylacauga through a cultural exchange program between Pietrasanta, Italy, and the Alabama Arts Council. During the festival, she carved a piece called “Hero,” depicting a man on his way to work. Sculpting since she was 10 years old, Giovannini said the chance to instruct and inspire her fellow sculptors has been a pleasure.

“I have tried to show them another way to think of sculpting by creating mine on a flat surface,” she said. “It has been wonderful to be with these people who love sculpting and work so hard, and I thank you all for this opportunity. Everyone is very, very kind, beautiful people who make me feel happy and at home.”

Her advice for Sylacauga is to create a permanent art school to advance its marble industry. “There is a lot of talent here, believe it or not, and a permanent school will be good for the economy and will attract people from all over,” she said. “And it will help the quarries to understand sculpting better.”

Canadian sculptor David Perrett said he has benefited greatly from the exchange between Giovannini and the other sculptors as he works on an advanced lattice work-inspired piece.

“This is a rare opportunity to have open dialogue with other marble sculptors, and it’s so interesting culturally,” he said. “Canadian culture is different than American culture, and Southern culture even more so. It’s a major cultural exchange for me, and everyone is very welcoming. We’ve had a lot more repeat visitors from the community this year, and that is by far the best way to enjoy the work is by watching the daily progression.”

Romanian sculptor Mircea Lacatus, who now resides in Huntsville, learned of the festival through his relationship with the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Lacatus uses a centuries-old carving technique using nothing but a chisel and hammer. He said the festival shows the strong relationship between sculptors and their art.

“Sculptors are the most beautiful, friendly people in the world, and I think that’s because of the power of the stone,” he said. “It gives you something special.”

Other festival activities included tours of the local marble quarries, community-oriented events, children’s sculpting classes, scavenger hunts, marble product displays and more. In addition, sculptures from local artists were made available for sale in select Sylacauga businesses. The festival closes Saturday with the Nemak 5K Run at 9 a.m. at Blue Bell Park.

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© 2013