Monday, October 3, 2016

Oct 2016

Wonders in Basalt... via the Olmecs and Isamu Noguchi

I had reason recently to share some of my images from the Noguchi Museum in Queens. This detail makes me wonder about the star-filled galaxy in the circle... is it convex or concave??? Sort of like the wonderments of our own universe. I show you Noghchi's whole wonder-full basalt piece to the left. He worked a lot in basalt and with my long-dormant sculptor's curiosity I wondered how it feels to work this stone. Basalt is mostly a result of lava flow and often is marked with rough air pockets but can be compressed into a solid mass... both with various specs of different minerals.

Then TVO brought me a doc about the Olmec civilization near the east coast of Mexico. Ancient Olmec sculptors found a basalt quarry quite a distance from their main city, San Lorenzo. About 1500 BC those guys started their colossal portraits while still in the quarry, probably to reduce their weight (to a mere 20-40 tons each) for transport via barges and brute force to San Lorenzo, high upon a hill. Once in place, they carved the details.
Archaeologists found over 10 of them formally arranged in San Lorenzo, and others in the other Olmec cities. Their quarry still holds some barely begun heads, so we know that part (see left). How they accomplished the actual transport remains a wonderment, sort of like Easter Island on the other side of the world.

I watched the scenes in the quarry with some more wondering about the feel of working basalt. I turned to Wikipedia, of course, to learn more and through that search realized that the staple Mexican mortar and pestle, called a molcajete, probably came from the same era and is traditionally made from this same basalt! I still haven't carved basalt, but I am from Texas and I have used such implements for grinding as well as for serving vessels. Now I wonder about what it would feel like carve into one and then to polish part of its surface. I might be letting you know some day.

If this isn't nice, what is?

           ~Kurt Vonnegut, of course.


More about Noguchi at Artsy's Noguchi page.

"Everything is sculpture...any material,
      any idea without hindrance born into space, 

         I consider sculpture."
-Isamu Noguchi