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Sculptor shapes 14-ton chunk of marble

Updated:2009-05-15 09:02:04

The buzz of a drill, jarring of a hacksaw and steady thump of hammer on chisel has filled the air of downtown Los Olivos since mid March.

Locals, on their way to the post office in the morning, wave, wine tasting tourists stare, and the most curious approach the mustached man perched atop the 8-feet tall, 14-ton chunk of Rosa del Portugal marble, and ask: what's it going to be?

The short answer is a woman, holding the book of knowledge, with a child lying near her feet, a waterfall cascading behind the woman; the water passing through the child's hands.

Between thumps of the hammer, the occasional ricochet of marble off a nearby wall, this is what sculptor Bryon Davis will attempt to explain.

As the sun blazed down yesterday, Davis, covered in a fine, white dust, a bandana around his neck, stood upon thousands of shards of marble, eyeing the stone, saying the design changes slightly all the time, but he knows too well what it will look like: he's been waiting more than two decades for this piece of marble to arrive. He's seen it and carved it thousands of times in his dreams. Now it's just a matter of patience and another 10 months of toil.

"It's a shame I even touched it," Davis, 51, said with a toothy grin, a power drill in his right hand. "It was such a pretty rock."

After a long pause, he added: "I have to release what's inside."

A local woman commissioned Davis to sculpt the piece last November. He declined to say who the woman is, only that she's a successful businesswoman.

He said the idea for the sculpture, the child, woman and book of life, was her vision. And when the two settled on a design, the marble block was ordered.

Mined in Portugal, Davis said the stone was shipped out of an Italian port. A four-week boat ride took the stone to islands in the Caribbean, Venezuela, then through the Panama Canal to Long Beach, where for two weeks it was stuck in customs, being X-rayed and inspected before arriving in Los Olivos.

"It took quite a trip," he said, adding that the tab just to get the stone in his hands was $50,000.

On a foggy morning in March a crane offloaded the stone slab from a trailer. Then it was hoisted over the wooden fence that separates Davis's dirt-floor, open air studio in the 2900 block of Grand Ave. from the sidewalk, to its resting place on a series of running boards.

After being put in place, the sheer 5-feet wide, 4-feet deep and 8-feet tall slab of prime marble (Davis said it was the purest piece, picked because of its minimal cracks, well balanced marbling and fleshy color), stood untouched for a week.

"I was like a kid at Christmas," he said. "I've been waiting to do a piece like this. By the grace of God this woman came along and helped."

When the week of preparation ended, Davis dug in, embarking on what he expects to be a year-long journey. After nearly two months, whittling away small pieces with a chisel, taking out large chunks with wedges, roughly four tons of marble lie at his feet and the figures of the woman and child are just beginning to take shape.

Davis is throwing everything he has at the project.

Each morning after walking his dogs, he gets right down to the job. Around 7 a.m., he begins. A small stereo, playing classical music for much of the day, and an occasional Bob Dylan tune, keeps him company.

The project is so close to the street, Davis put up a large piece of cloth to block flying chunks of marble from striking passersby or denting cars. However, he said the cloth actually protects him, from "lawsuits."

He takes small breaks, a couple per day, with a longer break in the heat of the afternoon, but said he works roughly 12 hours each day on the project.

"I give the town a little break from my noise," he said of the breaks.

This nonstop flow of work and Davis's drive to complete the project has led him to understand how ancient sculptors could become so engrossed in their work they would take only small cat naps, and for months or years, work continuously on the same project.

"There's nothing to it," he said. "It feeds the soul. You get off, but you're not tired. You just want to get right back on it."

Still, Davis isn't sure he's reached the same level of discipline as sculptors from centuries past.

"I don't think I'm quite there," he said. "I like watching [the] Lakers."

Davis sculpted his first piece at age 27, a cat for his parents. Since then, his top priority has been to sculpt.

"It got in my blood right away," he said.

On the patio outside his home, which is located next to his studio, a number of recent projects are on display. He uses stone from an array of places, including Colorado and as close as Figueroa Mountain.

Davis's goal of sculpting a large piece was born in 1987 after he helped fellow Los Olivos sculptor John Cody work on a 20-ton commission for Knotts Berry Farm.

"This is the first one over a ton," he said, sliding his hand over a smooth, untouched side of the marble. "This one's 14 tons, quite a bit of difference."

Though he spends as much time sculpting as possible, it hasn't always put dinner on the table.

His primary profession up until this project, which he's named Rosa Victoria, was a bulldozer operator on construction sites.

But even behind the controls of a dozer, pushing dirt around, Davis sees things through the lens of an artist.

"You're sculpting out a nice house for someone to live in," he said.

But for at least the next 10 months, Davis' full-time job is working on Rosa Victoria.

So far he's shed about 4 tons of the original 14-ton block. By the time it's done the block will be an additional 4 tons lighter, he said, and the woman will stand nearly 7-feet tall, with the tip of the waterfall a foot higher, the baby at her feet.

At this early stage Davis said he's given himself room to move things, mainly the positions of the figures' bodies.

For the casual observer, the block at this stage doesn't look like much beyond loads of hard work. But for Davis, it's all coming together, inch by painstaking inch: painstaking not because he finds it difficult, but because the suspense of it all is nearly too much for him to bear.

"Here's where the patience comes in because I can already see what's in there," he said. "I've carved this thing probably 1,000 times in my sleep."

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Source:http://www.thedailysound.com

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