I am a qualified and experienced professional banker mason
or architectural stone carver as I like to describe the ancient discipline of carving masonry, having earned my NVQ Level 2 at the City of Bath College, England, where I worked as a banker mason in the villages nearby for a period of three years beginning in January 2000
For the past 17 years I have lived and worked in the Roaring Fork Valley in and around Woody Creek and Aspen, Colorado, with my wife Kris and son Joseph. I specialize in carving our local, beautiful and unrivaled Colorado Yule Marble into the revolutionary light and portable sculpture that I have named Curvilinear
I was born in Preston, Lancashire, in the North West of England, where I enjoyed a rather happy childhood within a loving family in a part of the world that I absolutely loved to bits.
Such was the compact nature of the land that within a 50 miles radius I had everything a boy growing up in England could possibly desire. To the north I had access to the famous Lake District mountains on whose steep sides I was to clamber at will, and to the East lay the wild and wonderful Pennine moors on whose gently rounded hills I could ramble mile upon mile with a bold stride and relative ease. To the west I had the entire Irish Sea coastline to explore from just short of the Scottish border all the way down and into Wales. And to the south, just 30 miles or so in either direction, lay the iconic cities of Liverpool and Manchester beckoning me with their offer of top flight football matches, concerts and huge department stores.
So all-in-all, as far as growing up goes I have little to complain about. School was a different matter however but the less said about that the better I suppose. Although I was a well behaved child on the whole my mind did tend to wander from time to time during the less exciting classroom moments, and the words day dreamer often accompanied my school reports.
Please Click on a Photo to Enlarge
But honestly, with just so much going on outside the window and all across our tidy little bustling town, and with so much to do, places to go and people to see that, yes, I am afraid that it certainly is true that I let my active little imagination get away from me in the classroom at times. Luckily I had the love and support from my great family and the wide array of people we knew from our almost total immersion in the local Salvation Army, with both my mum and dad, my big brother Michael and myself involved in practically all aspects of the local Preston Central corps.
With my dad as bandmaster and my mum playing piano for the songsters we lead a full and productive life I can tell you, with huge monster Sunday dinners, fantastic holidays in various parts of England, and a genuine curiosity and desire for the perfect day out, practically all of my memories of those happy days are fond and pleasant ones.
Throughout my childhood, on into my teens and through to young adulthood I felt that my life just got better and better with each passing year, for with the awkwardness of my school years finally behind me I set out to discover the world of adulthood with glee. And although I had no real idea just what to do I eventually signed on to a five-year hot metal typesetting apprenticeship that served to keep me happy, honest and hardworking all the way through to the mature age of 22 when I left my home, Preston, Lancashire and even England behind me as I set off on a bicycle for what turned out to be exactly a year in Israel. Or to be more precise, three months on the road and nine months in Israel – an experience that was to change my life forever.
With the contacts made during my months of kibbutz life I found myself with sufficient addresses with which to spend a while travelling around visiting people, and so after a year or so living and working as a typesetter in London I purchased a £50 stand-by ticket at Heathrow for a flight to Philadelphia that would take me to my new life in the United Sates of America. Not that I had any idea that such a momentous decision had been made at the time however; far from it. In fact my first concern was to secure a position on a tobacco farm up in Canada, which I did, working the entire season and picking up my bonus, thus enabling me to continue my journey across the USA, eventually ending up in Portland, Oregon, where I would meet the love of my life, Kris, eventually settling down as a family man and living the good life for the next two decades.
Not that the economy in the early 1980s was much to shout about in Portland at the time, with logging in decline and not much in the way of decent paying jobs I at one point set off for Alaska with my friend Kelly in order to seek out work as a gill netter in Kenai, which fortunately turned out to be a record year for the salmon fishing industry, I therefore returned with enough money for us to spend three months in Thailand before relocating for 4 years to London where we owned and operated The Garbanzo Coffee House at the Angel Islington.
And so Kris and I were to live very happily in Portland for a period of 16 years spread over three different periods and, although life was not easy for us at first, we inevitably became more and more comfortable as time went on. Eventually, by the time we sold up and moved to England for a second time, we were the proud owners of a large, former Mormon bishop’s seven bedroom manse just off what is now fashionable South East Hawthorne Avenue. By this time I was working as a V.I.P. and celebrity chauffeur whereby I not only made a reasonable wage, but had the chance to meet many, many famous and wealthy people, giving me a rare insight into their amazingly luxurious lives. Kris and I later went on to own and operate our own tour company, Garavance First Class Tours, whereby I drove guests of Portland’s larger hotels around the burgeoning Willamette Valley wine country, the mighty Colombia River Gorge, Mount Hood and the spectacular northern Oregon Coast. But right at the very stroke of the new the century all was to change once more as we hopped the pond once again for what turned out to be another 4 years in Ol’ Blighty. This time however an immense opportunity was to arise that would really, well and truly change everything, for I was about to enroll on the City of Bath’s banker masonry NVQ course that would open up a whole new world of possibility for me, for I was about to embark on the calling of my life: stone carving.
Yes, it is fair to say that I discovered stone carving later in life than I would have perhaps desired, for I was well into middle age by the time I received my NVQ Level 2 at the City of Bath College, but what I lost in terms of time I felt that I more than compensated by throwing myself into the project with all the seriousness and hard work that such a huge and weighty decision demands. In short I new almost immediately that I was actually pretty good at carving stone and knew by the rapidity of my learning that I had at last really found my life’s calling. And even now a full twenty years later, since taking the vital plunge and ‘cubing the block’ (in a time honored ritual stretching all the way back to the building of the Cathedrals) in order to simply be allowed onto the course, I have never doubted the choice I made. But best of all neither does Kris – in fact I really think she loves the whole world of stone carving quite as much as do I.
In fact, so much does Kris love stone, I might add, that since returning to the United States and taking up residence here in the Roaring Fork Valley she has quite literally thrown herself into the project with all the pride, energy, enthusiasm and gusto because within 9 months of our arrival here in the Roaring Fork Valley the soon-to-be Birdhaven Studio Workshop was up and running when we paid for an extension to an old shed, mere steps away from our cabin, that was to form the nucleus of our Woody Creek Workshop years, when the bulk of everything I have carved to date was carved.
Of course plans are now afoot to create a whole new collection in a wholly new workshop, but more on that soon, at this moment in time I am very much involved and committed to selling the work that I created through those glorious Woody Creek years, and to this extent I am roughly half way through my goal. But to complete the story and shed a little light on the motivation behind my revolutionary light and portable Curvilinear Marble Sculpture Collection I want to now introduce you to the block of rock that literally changed my life forever:
On the morning that I split the giant slab of marble that had been laying in my stone yard for a full two years at the time it was late September of 2011 and seeing the block ride out a third Colorado Rocky Mountain winter, with the thought of it being once again welded to the iron hard ground, propelled me into a decision: Today I would split this mysterious rectangular block and take a good look at what it contained inside, for the markings were decidedly deceptive and quite unknown to me, as I had only carved a couple of jobs in the strange ‘local’ marble and neither projects had filled me with much love for the stone if I am honest. But never-the-less the day came and with one drill hole my Curvilinear Marble Sculpture Collection was begun. For although I had no idea just what I would do with the resulting blocks I felt sure that I could allow the time honored split and carve process to unravel and hopefully teach me a thing or two about this beautiful but beguiling slab of Colorado Yule Marble. And by the end of the process no less than 41 attest to the amazing quality and properties that I was to find. For this strange stone had a character alright – and so poignant that I quickly named her Mabel, Spirit of the Stone. It not only split like no other stone I have laid plug and feather wedges to, it carved like a demon, sometimes playing nice, and sometimes, especially in the early stages, sending me into fits of frustration!
However, and quite miraculously, as I worked my way through split block after split block of this amazingly dense and brilliantly white stone I slowly began to understand the forces and properties that I was up against, as the marble was anything but uniform in its consistency and would react strangely if provoked – nay, at times quite irrationally and destroying some of what I considered my very best work! But the stone had a point and I had to learn it – learn her ways and her demands. It was her way or the highway, and at this point, what could a poor infatuated stone carver like my self do? I was utterly hooked. And the deeper I went into this project the more fascinating it became. Eventually I was to learn just how much pressure to apply, in which direction to set the blade and how to remove sufficient stone as to leave the walls of my new Hand Carved Marble Bowls so thin that light permeates the marble in ways that I am convinced have never been witnessed in the long and proud history of marble carving. But what a journey it was to get where I am now. These days Mabel’s secrets are secrets no more and together we know how to create light and portable sculpture that is carved for full immersion in the real world. For although much of my Collection Series Marble Sculpture may look decidedly delicate – even fragile – I assure you that it is not. In actual fact, my Colorado Yule Marble Sculpture is as tough as can be, with some of the 67 sculptures having withstood everything that a Rocky Mountain winter or summer could hurl its way, and we are talking about some extreme weather up here; blistering hot sun in summer, and ferociously cold storms for much of the winter.
Which brings me to a timely conclusion to this Brief Bio of my life so far; because three years ago, on May Day of 2017, Kris and I took possession of a former plumbing shop at 111 Aspen Airport Business Center, Suite D, which, although in a state of disarray upon our arrival, looks, acts and feels like the Studio Gallery that can and will take us through to the next and most exciting stage of the story so far. For now that a goodly portion of the the 67 Collection Series Marble Sculptures have sold it is now time for me to turn my attention to producing the next generation of light, portable and carved for full immersion in the real world marble sculpture that will take my concepts and principles of Curvilinear to a whole new level. Just what that will be, how it will differ from my previous work at this point I have no idea. But I do know that given the new workshop and its location right outside of Aspen Airport and far from the idyll that was Woody Creek’s Birdhaven Studio… just five miles down the road… it is bound to bring its own influence to bear. Right now I have many ideas as to which direction I would like to take my life’s work, but soon enough we will begin to find out as I search for the perfect block to split and carve into Collection number 4.
to be continued
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thanks for visiting martincooney.com
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