Artist Transforms Stone from Michelangelo’s Marble Mountain
Mayo Mac Boggs has been, literally, to the mountain top of stone sculpture. For five weeks during the summer of 2008, Boggs lived in Pietrasanta, Italy carving marble that had been excavated from the shadowing Monte Altissimo, Italian for “Highest Mountain.” Monte Altissimo is also known as Michelangelo’s marble mountain in honor of the legendary artist who personally selected and used the exquisite marble for his own carvings beginning in 1517.
Fast forward to 2008, and Pietrasanta is the epicenter of the sculpture art world. Artists from Sweden, Japan, South Korea and other nationalities joined Boggs for a sculpture workshop and the opportunity to walk the same streets as did Michelangelo. “I have worked with and taught my stone sculpture classes with steatite (soap stone) and alabaster quite extensively but this was my first time working with marble,” said Boggs, Professor of Art at Converse. “Marble is so special because of the beauty of the crystals and its wonderful feel. It becomes such a beautiful material to work with in your hands…very much like wood in that it’s easy to carve but you have to use the proper tool or else it will chip or bruise. You do not beat a stone; you caress it. There’s a certain type of chisel that you use for every move. With marble, an artist may use twenty different chisels for one certain area.”
When Boggs returned to his Spartanburg, South Carolina home from Pietrasanta, his main souvenir came in the form of three thousand pounds of Monte Altissimo marble. An acquaintance who works with a local transport company handled the shipment of the marble, and provided virtual door-to-door delivery from Italy. “I’m very grateful to them because their efforts were invaluable. The only thing I had to do was take care of having the marble crated and delivered to their Florence (Italy) office, and they took it from there. Much of their efforts were due to the fact that I am a local sculpture artist, and they wanted to support me.”
After delivery of the marble, Boggs and his arsenal of chisels went to work. Working nine-hour shifts for five weeks in his home studio, he chiseled into the precious stone. Gradually, the image of cloth began to take shape upon the stone in a tribute by the artist to the southland’s rich history of textile. “I have always been enthralled by (images of) fabric and clothing in carved marble pieces. Carved clothing and accessories excite me more than facial features because of the work that goes into it. I had originally planned to carve a piece of fabric thrown over a rock but that concept is leading me to ideas far beyond that; I’m leaning very strongly to incorporating a cinched rope and various other materials in a three-dimensional visual.”
For the 2008 Converse Art and Design Faculty Exhibition, Boggs showcased finished and unfinished sections of the Monte Altissimo carved marble along with tools, examples of Statuario marble and photographs of the marble quarry. He is entertaining thoughts of using the sections as models for an even larger piece—”somewhere in the several ton category”—to be completed later.
In describing the method to his art, Boggs said “I start with a small model, in this case a little piece of canvas draped over a small piece of balsa wood, and develop a ratio based upon that. For example, if the model is six inches long, I multiply that by four for the actual stone. This gives provides a basic visual perception.”
Boggs then describes the mental transformation he experiences during his carving. “In stone carving, one gets into a state where there are no words in the mind. Most people have words in their mind constantly defining what they are looking at. With carving, there is no echo coming back. It’s a time of suspended animation where your eyes are processing what you’re seeing and are working in sync with your hands.”
Boggs began his love affair with sculpture when he was a child. “Growing up near the railroad trackas of Ashland, Kentucky, I would pick up pieces of scrap metal that had fallen from the box cars, fill my wheel barrel with about fifty pounds of scrap and take it to a nearby business that was going to buy the scrap anyway from the train. They’d give me a quarter, and I’d go to the movies. We were very poor, and when you’re poor you’ll find every way you can to make a few pennies. But I was, perhaps subconsciously at the time, fascinated by the shapes of the scrap pieces.”
By his own admission, college was not in the cards for Boggs when he graduated from high school. “I graduated at the bottom of my class. But I was taking difficult courses, practically living out of my car and buying my own clothes and books. I went to the library one day and found a book about architecture. I had always drawn a little bit but in those days it wasn’t particularly ‘manly’ to say that you could draw. I discovered that a neighbor had a full set of blueprints, and over the course of four months I researched and re-drew every line in that set of blueprints. I then tucked my work under my arm and began knocking on the doors of architectural companies. One of the men who I interviewed with asked me to explain my drawings to him. After leaving his office, I saw the valedictorian of my high school class in the lobby; he was looking for a job and had architectural experience through a co-op at the University of Cincinnati. I didn’t think I had a chance. But the next Monday morning, the boss called me and said that his hiring decision came down between my high school classmate and me. He wanted me because I had—in his words—demonstrated ‘practical understanding.’ I had taught myself the practicalities of architecture.”
Boggs would go on to work as a draftsman and a residential designer. He also worked part-time for a civil engineer who could not afford to pay him. “He had just graduated from college and didn’t have much money. They were doing a lot of subdivision development going on at the time, so he offered to pay me with land. By the time I was 21, I had about six pieces of land. I sold them all and went to college at the University of Kentucky. I had originally planned to major in architecture but the classes were filled. While I waited for a space to open, I took one of the pre-requisite sculpture courses, and I fell head-over-heels in love with it.”