More than one person has responded to my announcement that I am spending the summer in Scranton by telling me that The Office takes place in Scranton. So, I would like you all to know that there really is a paper mill in Scranton. Not the set of The Office, I’m guessing.
But, having now spent almost two months here, I can tell you that there is a lot more to it than that. Scranton is an old mining town. It was booming in the early 1900’s and appears to have done very little since then. It reminds me a bit of Northern MN – grey and depressing. My favorite weather (really). The city is in the hills/mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Hills ring the city and are visible from just about everywhere.
My first home in Scranton was the dorms at the University of Scranton. But, then, in mid-August, the students came back and I had to go elsewhere, so I got to stay in this gorgeous AirBnB in what has to be the most beautiful part of town.
Every day, I would drive to the studio at St. Gregory the Great Academy about six miles outside of town. As stated in a previous post, Andrew Smith, the sculptor I came to Scranton to apprentice for, has his studio in the basement. St Greg’s is several miles outside of town and up in the hills, so it’s cooler and breezier than in town. It has a barn and several acres of property.
I did a bit of landscape painting there in the mornings.
Andrew’s studio is a big room lined with windows on the west side and set into a hill on the other. It’s cool and sunny. There are areas for stone carving, clay modeling, woodworking, and plaster casting.
Here’s the man himself contemplating a bust of Homer.
My day was divided into two parts: mornings were for learning stone carving. Afternoon were for doing whatever Andrew needed done in the studio. I worked on two stone carving projects. The first was a direct carving project. This means that I work directly on the stone, figuring out the design as I go. This project was a rosette design.
The second project was a copy of a plaster cast of the head of Aphrodite from a classical Greek sculpture. (The Venus de Milo, as far as I can tell.) This project used a machine called a “pointing machine.” The machine has a needle that marks a point in three dimensional space. The sculptor finds points on the plaster original and then carves the block of stone to the depth indicated by the needle. The process is not, however, entirely mechanical. The sculptor must choose which points to use and how to connect them.
In the afternoons, I worked on a variety of projects for Andrew. For the first several days, I sculpted a head and finished the surface of rocks for the base of a larger sculpture.
After that, there was a plaster bust to sand, prime, and gild. Gilding was an adventure.
Here is an image of the gilded sculpture. Andrew Smith calls this piece “The Ecstasy of Blessed Imelda Lambertini.”
The gilded bust also needed a marble plaque (The plaque is still in progress and is not yet installed in the image above.)
The last project was to make a mold for a bust of Homer. Andrew finished this sculpture several years ago but want to make copies of it now.
These were the main projects to which I contributed. So, besides learning stone carving, I learned gilding and gained experience modeling and mold-making.
Other than working in the studio, I had time to enjoy my summer in the hills. The parish I attended was a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and had a summer drop-in choir. Andrew and his family had me over for dinner regularly and introduced me to other people involved in St. Gregory’s. I even took a few ballroom dancing lessons.
Today, I wrapped up my projects and loaded the Venus head and rosette into my car. Tomorrow, I’ll leave Scranton for Minnesota to see my family and then return to Jersey City to finish up my last year and the Florence Academy. A big thank you to Andrew Smith and to everyone who welcomed me with open arms in Scranton this summer.