Marble Sculpture Part I: What is Marble?
Raphael, made from Colorado Marble Rhapsody, made from Rosa Verona Marble
Sculptor Mike Leckie often chooses marble as a medium to sculpt the human form. The color and textures of marble add depth and expression to forms captured in a moment. Due to its beauty and prestige among the art community, it is no surprise that Leckie has worked with marble to create over 19 pieces. Many art enthusiasts can appreciate the elegance of marble and easily recognize the stone as it is commonly associated with famous works. Because marble is so prolific, we will be discussing marble as a medium for sculpture in a two part segment. The first discussing the properties of marble and the second elaborating on the process and why sculptors choose marble.
How Marble is Formed
Most people probably have a basic understanding of marble, or can at least identify it as a stone used in sculptures. But what is marble? And why is it viewed as a prestigious stone for not only sculptures but architecture as well? Marble is formed through the process of metamorphism. This occurs when limestone is exposed to extreme heat and pressure. Under the conditions of metamorphism, the calcite in the limestone recrystallizes to form a rock that is a mass of interlocking calcite crystals. Though marble is largely made up of the mineral calcite, it can contain many other minerals as well, resulting in different colors and patterns. This is one of the reasons many stonework artists choose marble and why it is found in many cathedrals and abbeys.
Where Does it Come From?
Typically, marble quarries are geographically extensive, allowing it to be mined on a large scale, with some mines producing millions of tons per year. Before the rise of technology, stonework artists were limited to using stone that was available in their region. One of the most well known places where marble is mined is Carrara, Italy. Sculptor Mike Leckie completed The Reading Girl (lower left) in 2009, a piece made from Carrara Marble that was commissioned by the Public Library in Albany, OR.
Other famous marble quarries that many Greek and Roman sculptors used were found in the Pentelikon Mountain Range and the Greek Island of Paros. Now, however, marble quarries span the globe and can be found in Scotland, Tuscany, Spain and the Western Alps. The United States has marble quarries in Alabama, Georgia, Vermont, Maryland, Colorado and Tennessee.
Types of Marble
Because marble is formed from limestone it is typically light colored, and even white in its most pure form. However, when it is a result of limestone that contains clay, iron oxides or bituminous material the resulting stone can vary from blue to gray, pink, yellow or even black. A great example of the different colors and patterns found in marble is Leckie’s Tiger Rock Girl (lower right), made from California Marble or Black Pearl (upper right) made from Rainbow Obsidian and Utah Black Marble.
As mentioned earlier, marble quarries can now be found across the globe, but the most popular marble still comes from some of the oldest quarries. These marbles; Pentelic, Parian and Carrara vary from golden to translucent white to pure white and have been used by stonework artists for centuries.
The More you Know
The next time you are enjoying the artistry of a marble sculpture, take a moment to imagine such a precious stone in its raw from. You might find that your appreciation for the piece in front of you deepens with the knowledge of how marble is formed and where it is mined. And don’t forget to stay tuned for Marble Sculpture Part II and learn about the types of marble and the techniques that stonework artists use.