SchoolArts Magazine

APR 2018

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G SCHOOLARTSMAGAZINE.COM 27 A Force of Nature T H E A A LV I N A R T I S T, D E S I G N E R , A N D S T O N E M A S O N I s there a fine line between stone construction and sculp- ture? Is there a difference between a stonemason and an a rtist? Do architecture and stone construction belong in a different category than "fine art"? The work of sculp- tor, stonemason, and architect Thea Alvin proves that such q uestions are irrelevant. A Master of Stone Thea Alvin is an artist with an extraordinarily intuitive insight into the natural world. This is eminently visible in her stonework, from Private Chapple with accompanying stone garden wall (2012, Vermont), to her Cairn pieces that resemble parts of prehistoric religious sites. The artist, who claims that her hands are smarter than she is, has become a master of stone construction that relies on her innate ability to calculate the forces of gravity and balance. This ability is enhanced by her belief in the beauty of the whole more than the individual elements that make up the work. Alvin is the daughter of a stonemason and grew up learn- ing to be his "tender," doing everything from mixing mortar t o fetching bricks and cement blocks—often two racks at a time. After studying with another stonemason, her epiphany in stonework came in 1998 while she was working in an art gallery. Benefiting from a gift of pieces of white marble from a stonemason with whom she had worked, she practiced manipulating the pieces by weight, shape, and balance. She learned to build her first arch in the ancient Roman manner, where the downward thrust (force) of the component stones (voussoirs) forms an arch without requiring any mortar. Alvin moved on from her first arch to create rock instal - lations that are both architectural and sculptural, such as t he Bonnaroo Walls (2015, Manchester, Tennessee), the construction of which is reminiscent of the American colo- nial practice of clearing fields of rocks for farming and using t hem to construct boundary walls to protect the fields from cattle. The Three Witnesses (2014–2015) is a shrine-like structure constructed at Kinstone Academy of Applied Per - maculture (see images). Its concentric circles of low stone w alls with interspersed vertical slabs of polished stone inevi- tably remind the viewer of the world-famous Stonehenge. Lasting Tributes Alvin executes projects and teaches stonework in many parts of the world. Her permanent works (although she has said that nothing is "set in stone") appear in six countries. She works in the tradition of the artists who built the earli - est stone churches in Ireland, the environmental artists J ames Turrell (b. 1943) and Robert Smithson (1938–1973), and the builders of the Saudeleur Dynasty (ca. 1100s–1600), who built the stone city of Nan Madol in Micronesia. Alvin's works are lasting tributes not only to the beauty of nature, but also to the soul of an artist who employs nature with the highest level of skill and respect. L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G Top: Stonemason Thea Alvin with her sculpture The Three Witnesses at the Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture in Fountain City, Wisconsin, 2014. Bottom: Thea Alvin, Tendrils and Reflections, 2017. Field stone, 97 tons. Built in memory of Jane Loisdaughter, Chardon, Ohio. Images courtesy of the artist. Copyright Thea Alvin, MyEarthwork.

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