The Thrill of New Stone

A Letter in the Mailbox

A local carving friend left me letter in my mailbox recently, to tell me that she was retiring from carving stone, and that she wondered if I would like to buy some of her stone inventory. I had a good inventory of Canadian Soapstone, but not much Brazilian Soapstone or Alabaster. Shopping for carving stone usually means spending at least a few hours driving, which costs time and gas, and with no guarantee that you will find what you want. This carver lived in a nearby village. I called her up and set a time to visit to see her stone.


Preparing for the Visit

The visit was a commitment for both of us - in order to see the shape and colours of stone properly, it is best viewed outside, and sprayed with water.. Soapstone and Alabaster can be heavy, depending on the size of the blocks or chunks. She told me she would begin moving stone the night before. I hadn't seen the stone, but decided to buy at least one medium-sized piece, so that she would not be wasting her time.  I set some old blankets in the back of my car, loaded a rasp and hand chisel to test the stone, persuaded my partner to come with me, and drove over to see the stone.


The Visit
My carver friend had set out the blocks and chunks of stone on the asphalt, surrounded by pylons. The first piece of stone I saw was a big block of beautiful translucent orange Alabaster. I knew immediately that my planned stone budget was shot.  She showed me some small chunks of white and yellow-orange Alabaster first, and listed their prices, which were very fair. I gathered them and a few other pieces of stone together in a cluster and said that I would certainly take those. Then I took time to look at the other pieces of stone. I was dazzled by light blue Soapstone (a first for me), a lime green Soapstone, and that gorgeous translucent orange Alabaster. We talked prices as I examined the various rocks, pouring water on some, testing hardness on others by scraping the stone with my rasp. She was surprised but delighted that I was interested in the larger pieces. She began writing down my purchases on a small notepad.


Blocks and chunks of Soapstone and Alabaster carving stone in a parking lot. Artist Cindy Presant 2023
Going to buy some carving stone.
Carving stone going home. Cindy Presant 2023

Moving the Raspberry Alabaster

I checked on the stone every day that following week, to ensure that the table hadn't collapsed under the concentrated weight of the stone. In the past, I had used a step-wise series of cardboard-covered tables or supports to gradually get heavy stone out of my vehicle and to the ground. But this piece was too big, and I didn't want to risk damaging it. I researched various folding shop lifts (mixed reviews, none seemed to fold well). They were designed like a mini crane, so moving stone using one would mean finding some kind of net to put the stone in, first. It all seemed risky and inefficient. I ended up buying a hydraulic lift cart (500lb limit). It was heavy to actually get that out of my vehicle, but once we set it up, loading and moving the Alabaster was simple. The cart will be very useful for lifting heavy stone up to the height of my work table, and also for transferring stone out of my trunk and into the garage. It's important to take care of your back.

I am looking forward to carving these stones and seeing what creatures are within them. Cindy Presant, April 2023

And then she said those magical words: "I have a big piece of raspberry Alabaster inside." I had seen a small chunk of raspberry Alabaster during a trip to Sculpture Supply Canada in Toronto four years ago. I was tempted to buy some then, but instead bought a block of white Alabaster. I went to see the raspberry Alabaster in her dark storage area. It looked promising. She brought it outside carefully, a heavy block nearly a cubic foot in size. We poured water on it. My heart beat faster. It was stunning. I bought it. Fortunately my partner was willing to load the trunk with my purchases, and that last piece weighed the most. I was very happy, and so was my carving friend. I had bought three-quarters of the stone she had set out. She made some comments about carbide-tipped chisels that I tried not to hear.

We drove home. My partner unloaded the stone. The most difficult one was the approximate 150lb raspberry Alabaster block. He lifted it onto a small sturdy table, and we crossed our fingers the table would hold the weight while I figured out a way to move it elsewhere.


Raspberry Alabaster block on lift cart. Artist Cindy Presant 2023
Raspberry Alabaster on Lift Cart
Carving stones on floor of garage. Artist Cindy Presant 2023

Birding Aside: I had received a text from a friend while looking at the stones that there was a Ruff (bird) sighting in the nearby cemetery. Long Point, in Norfolk County (Ontario), is a world-renowned migratory pathway, and gets an amazing assortment of birds, being the first land birds see when flying across Lake Erie. Ruffs are a European bird, but sometimes they get blown off course and end up in Ontario for a little while. Sightings are rare. We ate a quick lunch, then drove over to the cemetery (5 minutes away). We parked and loaded up with our binoculars, birding scope, and tripod. Fortunately there was a group of expert birders from Toronto, all with scopes, and they were able to point out the bird for us to see. A great day all around.  Norfolk County provides endless inspiration. C.