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As soon as sculptor Elise Muller saw the boulder, she knew exactly what she would carve from it.
She was doing an artist’s residency at the Kingsbrae International Residence for the Arts in St. Andrews, New Brunswick in June 2017. While there, she learned of an international competition organized by Kingsbrae Garden, the site of the residency and also home to a beautiful sculpture garden.
The first and second place entries from the competition are displayed in the garden permanently, and the remaining finalists are shown for two years.
“I was really inspired,” says Muller. “When I was there they arranged for me to go out and pick a boulder of St. George red granite from another sculptor who had it on his property for landscaping purposes. When I saw it at the time I knew exactly what I wanted to carve out of it because I could sort of see it in the stone already.”
Muller brought home a smaller piece of the granite to carve a maquette—a small scale model of the sculpture she envisioned. I really liked working with it so I sent photos of my maquette to the call for the (Kingsbrae Garden) Canadian Sculpture Competition.” Her sculpture, Attunement, was selected as one of the 12 finalists.
Then she needed to carve the full scale sculpture, but she was in Muskoka and the 2,000-pound boulder was still in St. Andrews. Muller had it shipped and by the time it arrived she had just nine weeks this spring to complete her piece. “I was able to do nothing else but carve my rock,” says Muller. “I spent all my time working on it but I got it done.”
It weighed about half as much when the carving was complete, so they loaded it on to her husband’s truck and installed it at Kingsbrae Garden in mid-May. They returned to St. Andrews for the June 7 announcement and learned that she had won.
The Garden called her sculpture “sensational”. It depicts a tender and joyful embrace of a mother and child. Muller left pieces of the boulder untouched for the mother’s legs and hair. For the pair’s clothing, she ground the stone until it was smooth, but didn’t polish it. And for the skin on their faces and arms and the child’s feet, Muller heavily polished the stone until it was a beautiful, gleaming red.
As she was carving, she uncovered a delightful surprise. “There’s this black circle. It was just an inclusion in the granite,” says Muller. “It was really strange—I didn’t even know it was there.” At first it just felt like a harder, dark grey section, but when wet it became a beautiful, sparkling black reminiscent of a galaxy. “It was in a circle and I carved it to make it a little more round. I think of it as the connection between the mother and child, this universal love.”
The sculpture is based on a charcoal sketch Muller drew about 10 years ago. “I might have called it Happiness at the time, but attunement was more what I was thinking about—the connection between the mother and child, the feeling of being at one with each other. It was perfect that that black circle was there.”
Muller says she is honoured that Attunement will remain permanently on display at Kingsbrae Garden. “They get to keep it in their sculpture garden forever which is really cool. It’s a beautiful place,” she says.
And she’ll put the prize money to good use, making a more permanent workspace to replace the temporary one she’s using now.
Next, she plans to finish a large limestone sculpture of a couple dancing that she’s been working on, and then turn her attention to some smaller pieces. She’ll also be teaching some courses at the Haliburton School of Art and Design in July and November.
Muller has two sculptures on display in Huntsville right now: one in the Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour’s alumni show at the Canada Summit Centre, and the other in the Huntsville Art Society’s members show at Partners Hall. She’ll have some available at the Oxtongue Craft Cabin and Gallery starting on the July long weekend, or you can view her works by appointment at her studio. Learn more about Muller at stonetreestudio.ca.
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