By Sandra Marshall
Carolyn Sandor-Weston hails from the small northern Alberta town of High Prairie. In the 60s, the town bloomed as a destination for immigrants of many nationalities, joining the First Nations residents in surrounding reserves and bringing together a unique mix of multi-ethnic languages, beliefs, and ideas.
Being the daughter of immigrant parents and her early childhood years in High Prairie widened Carolyn’s perspectives and taught her to see the world with more empathy and feeling. Carolyn’s taste for world travel grew from this multitude of cultures and she has travelled widely before arriving with her husband and family in Ottawa in 2004.
Sandor-Weston’s art began with poetry and prose, filling books with her writings. She went on to discover photography, wanting to capture atmosphere in the images, as do her words which create an image in one’s mind. She entered the Alberta College of Arts in the 80s by way of her photography but was seduced by the drawing and printmaking in those fine arts departments. Here, her two-dimensional work used all variety of media to create impactful pieces. It was during this time that Carolyn realized that she was trying to express a story with her art. Today, her art is still about story telling, whether in carved stone or acrylic painting. They are reflections of how Carolyn feels and sees the world.
During printmaking studies, Carolyn became enthused by the lithography process of etching on stone slabs. The resulting prints were not what excited her, but rather the etched stone. Her life has always included stone, from photo images to collecting stones and pebbles. She soaks up the energy they bring her. One Christmas a gift from her husband transformed her pockets-full-of-pebbles to a 25pound soapstone ready to carve. Rasps, rifflers, chisel, and mallet soon followed. Sandor-Weston’s artistic perception has guided her carving from the start, allowing the stone to tell its story and inspiring her creative energy. She sees carving as a trusting dialogue with the stone.
Her first carvings were of soft Brazilian soapstone, but she has expanded her work with harder Quebec soapstone and is experimenting with white alabaster and translucent selenite. Bones, antlers, fur and gut, all gifts from family and friends that were collected during hikes, have found homes in Carolyn’s sculpture creations. She is now playing with bases for her sculpture and is very excited about carving bone and antler, an exploration for the coming year.
Carolyn begins her carving process through feeling the stone, first softening edges with a rasp, talking to it and creating a relationship with it. She is searching for the direction that the stone pulls her. nce she has decided her direction, she uses rifflers, small hand files, and chisels to cut away. For small delicate work, Carolyn uses dental tools. Pins and epoxy may be used to set antlers or bone. Once the image starts to reveal itself, she observes the whole stone, taking time to identify the flow of the form. The movement in the finished piece is vital to her. She wants to feel that form, such as a bear’s swayback and belly.
The free-flowing process of carving is what she loves best. ‘’Just trusting the stone and letting the stone guide you –it’s almost like breathing. Or maybe like surfing …You just go with the stone and enjoy the ride.’’ Carolyn delights in the intricacy of details, adding little surprises, like a beautiful wattle on a thick, sagging bear’s neck, or the expression on a face. They are moments of beauty where the eye can linger. ‘’Of course, the final denouement comes when I rub wax onto the stone and all its amazing colours come to life.’’
To achieve high polished stone requires hours of wet sanding, starting with 400 grit and slowly moving up to 3000 grit. This process can take her six to ten hours depending on the size and detail of the carving. Her love of detail requires extra time working the crevasses and grooves. After sanding, the stone is heated and then buffed with wax for a deep shine. Whether to apply a base is her final consideration when observing the finished stone.
Carolyn’s inspirations often draw from her childhood in the north, in particular her relationships with Indigenous communities’ folklore. She respects the continuity of storytelling and lessons.
When living in Australia she felt honoured to sit in a dried riverbed with Aborigine companions listening to their stories, symbolism, and history. For many Indigenous peoples, animals represent the land and the evolution of the human story. Sandor-Weston appreciates this interconnection, often the basis of much folklore. This is why animals and humans find their way out of her stones. Employing antler, bone or fur helps to evoke the story that the earth melded in the stone and brings to life a unique connection for the viewer. She wants to further explore this connectivity that humans share with animals and the land. She respects the Indigenous community and does not want to be seen as infringing on an area that some feel she should not occupy. As she moves forward, she believes that she needs to consider this in her future work.
Carolyn Sandor-Weston is a member of the National Capital Network of Sculptors.
For beginner soapstone carvers Carolyn’s recipe is: