Monday, March 25, 2013

Interview with Stone Carver Michael Foley


Michael Foley of M S Foley Stoneworks in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in conjunction with the Cape Ann Artisans at 30 Exhibit, will be giving a presentation in the Cape Ann Museum auditorium at 11:30 am on Saturday March 30, 2013. The presentation, entitled "Birth of a Stone Sculpture" will cover the entire process of carving a stone sculpture, as well as the tools, materials and techniques involved. Examples of his some smaller work will also be shown at this time. The public is cordially invited. This is a recent interview I did with him:

I'm really amazed by your stone carvings. How did you get started doing this?
Thank You.  I got my first jackknife when I was about eight years old, along with a piece of soft pine.  I don't recall the subject of that first carving, but I do remember the first finger cut and the tears.  I don't cry as much these days, but I still get an occasional need for a Band-Aid. 
Did you have a background in art? I know you are a musician but sculpture is a very complex art form.
Artwork has been been a constant companion in my life, but I haven't taken formal lessons, other than in glass blowing which I found very difficult.  Most of my art education has been learning from doing, and by studying the work of artists who really know what they are doing.  I've dabbled in various media, but just didn't do so well with art forms requiring the use of color.  I am in complete awe of the painters of Cape Ann who are able to do this.  I was a career mechanical design engineer which helped to develop three dimensional visualization skills, but the things I designed were not very pretty.

Do you have a preference in the kinds of stones you work with? Where do you get them?
I began with the bounty left locally by the last glacier.  A brief look at it doesn't reveal the huge variety of stone types on Cape Ann.  We have a wide variety of granites, jasper, basalt, serpentine, quartz and many others.  We don't see the beauty in these stones when we walk on a pebbled beach, as the tumbled finish and surface oxidation makes these wonderful stones look like shades of gray and tan.  I've worked with local boulders and pebbles from all around Cape Cape Ann and the North Shore, but the remnants from our granite quarrying industry provide some very nice sculpture stone.  I have also begun over the last few months to work in various types of marble, of which there is very little in the area, although I have found a small and very old cliff quarry in Newbury which still has some very hard white marble with beautiful green veining.  I also have a friend from western Massachusetts who drops off some marble boulders from time to time, and I've traveled to Vermont to buy various types of quarried marble.  I don't think I have a real preference, as there are many trade-offs with stone, such as hardness, ability to hold detail, and finished surface appearance.

What is your inspiration for your designs?
I have been fascinated by the beauty and variety of marine life since my childhood Golden Book days, so much of my earlier work and some current projects are of crustaceans and fish.  Symbols of many types have also been a life long interest, and  some of my work has been in astrological symbols.  But I feel my main focus is on abstracts which depict geometric and mathematical functions, although I've more recently done abstract shapes for their own sake, without a natural or mathematical basis. 

I take it you work out of your home. Where do you exhibit your work and how have you gone about marketing them?
I work at my home, and preferably outdoors, as dust control is a very serious issue, particularly in working with silica based stone such as granite, or serpentine which may contain asbestos.  My less-than-ostentatious studio is in my ground level garage, where I've devised dust control measures and do my work in colder weather.  I also showcase my inventory on hand there, and will participate this year in the Cape Ann Artisan's Open Studio Tour, June 22 & 23, and Columbus Day Weekend October 12, 13 & 14th.  I have pieces exhibited at the Rockport Art Association and Bodin Historic Photographs on Main Street in Gloucester, Mass.  Beginning soon, my work will be on sale at Dogtown Philosopy and The Art Nook, both on Bearskin Neck in Rockport, Mass.  In early July, I will be participating in a particularly interesting show in Gloucester which is currently in the planning stages.

Tell me about the show you have coming up.
This show will be a cooperative effort with myself and other artists of different media.  We are teaming up in such such a way as to provide a truly synergistic experience in the art community.  I am happy to say that the other players are better known and more highly experienced than I am, and that even the venue will be unusual and very interesting.  We are are in the detailed planning stage at this time, and expect to make announcements on the details within the next couple of weeks.

Have you participated in other such exhibits?
I participated in two shows last year, one at the Annie in the Blackburn Building, and the other at the 283 Gallery in Nashua, NH.  Both shows were with two other artists, and also offered interesting synergies.  The show at the Annie was particularly successful with an estimated 300 visitors, and in addition to my own work featured the brilliant floral paintings of Gail Gang of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. and the stone carvings of Mindy Trafton of Rockport, Mass.

Where can people see your work other than at this exhibition?
In addition to the shops and shows I've mentioned, I and others will be planning shows over the next few months.  My website, msfoleystoneworks.com, will be showing more of my current work as soon as the spirit moves me to do the badly needed updates.  My limited experience in public display of sculpture, however, indicates that real-life exhibits are vastly superior to anything which can be done on line, although I am experimenting with video, which may tell a better story of sculpture forms.

Can you tell my readers anything more about your background?
In addition to carving work, I have had a very full career in the mechanical engineering business, providing technical and managerial services to companies such as Varian Associates in Gloucester, as well as others requiring the design of factory automation of various types.  Some may also remember my sabbatical in the 2003 to 2006 time frame, when I ran my home repair business from Gloucester, Mass. as North Shore Home Repair.  I've been known to play the guitar and sing a few original songs from time to time, and hope to do more of this in the near future.  I also enjoy motorcycle riding during our painfully short warmer seasons.  I live in Gloucester with my wife, Ann, my daughter, Colleen, and Madonna the Old Lady Dog.

What is the best way for people to contact you?
I may be reached by e-mail at mike.foley@hotmail.com or by phone at 508-284-5885.

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