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Closeup of a taconite.

The natural colors and patterns of taconite, one of many stones being carved at Minnesota Rocks!

Man, woman, and rock

By Pauline Oo

June 9, 2006

The study of geology at the University of Minnesota began in 1872 when the state Legislature directed the U to establish a school to study geology and share its learnings with the citizens of the state. More than 130 years later, the school--currently named the N. H. Winchell School of Earth Sciences on the Twin Cities campus--continues to meet those goals. In fact, one of its research centers, the Minnesota Geological Survey, is helping to educate a whole lot of people from Minnesota and around the world about Minnesota rocks this month.

Through Friday, June 30, numerous facts about Minnesota stone and the state's stone industry--culled from the Minnesota Geological Survey, as well as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Hedberg Landscapes and Masonry Supplies--appear at Minnesota Rocks!, an international stone-carving symposium in St. Paul, Minn.

Six stone sculptors from Minnesota, including three University of Minnesota alums, are among the 14 master stone sculptors from Japan, Germany, Mexico, China, Zimbabwe, Finland, and Egypt. Each artist has been working for the past two weeks with a block of stone from a Minnesota quarry. The end results will be permanently installed throughout St. Paul, as well as the cities of Vadnais Heights (see sidebar) and St. Anthony Village.

"As participants in the symposium, our languages may not be the same but our art will become the universal idiom through which understanding develops," says Craig David, who graduated from the U in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science in Art Education. David and his fellow master carvers had no clue what they would each create or what stones their tools would shape until they had met and toured the proposed installation sites.

Italy in Vadnais Heights

Italian stone carver Pasquale Martini's sculpture will eventually reside in one of the parks in Vadnais Heights. Mayor Sue Banovetz, who is a College of Liberal Arts alum and its current director of media and public relations, says her city is both "excited and honored about the opportunity to sponsor Pasquale Martini's work." The artist has taught and exhibited all around the world for more than 30 years.

Granite was the stone of choice for carver Lourdes Cue. Her husband, Jay Miskowiec, says the one-time University of Minnesota student picked the 10-ton monster--which she spilt into four love-seat-sized pieces--"because no one wanted to work with it; the stone is very tough." Among her tools are an electric grinder studded with diamonds and the traditional hammer and chisel.

"The physical and mental effort of conceiving an idea and carving it into stone is a revelation and a challenge," says Cue, the only female carver at the symposium, who has been carving stones for almost seven years. "I work very intuitively, and I enjoy what I do very much." Cue, who moved to Minnesota from Mexico City in 1992 and returns to Mexico often to make and exhibit her art, is known for her water-related stone sculptures and multimedia works. In this case, she says, her quad of stones might ultimately look like a kayak floating in water.

In addition to Cue's granite, the other stones peppering the construction-site-looking symposium grounds on Saint Paul College's lawn on Summit Ave. are gneiss (which, like granite, is more than 2.4 billion years old); iron, gabbro, and quartzite rocks (1 to 2.4 billion years old); and limestone and dolomite (much younger sedimentary rocks). Near some of the sculptures-in-the-making are samples of other types of rocks; placards display such names as Tiger Stripe, Virginia Slate, and Mary Ellen Jasper.

Lei Yixin carving a massive rock.
Lei Yixin from China working with dolomitic limestone.

Photo by Pauline Oo

Minnesota holds some of the earth's oldest and most beautiful and valuable stone. Morton gneiss, for example, known as "rainbow granite," comes from the southwest corner of the state and is more than 3.5 billion years old. Younger granites, in colors ranging from black and grey to red and pink, are deep in the earth around St. Cloud, while limestone and dolomite are quarried around Mankato and in the Mississippi River Valley. Minnesota stone is the prized material of architectural and artistic treasures all over the nation and the world.

Peter Morales, who earned a master's degree in Hispanic literature and linguistics at the University of Minnesota, joined the symposium as a carver to learn what it would be like because he hopes to host such an event in his native Guatemala.

"Guatemala has a legacy of great monumental stone sculpture from the pre-Columbian era, yet since then and into modern times [little such] sculpture is undertaken in stone," Morales explains. He envisions a Guatemalan Stone Symposium as an opportunity to possibly revive a long lost tradition of monumental stone sculptures in the region. "Mesoamerican sculpture, which incorporates hieroglyphic inscriptions with relief figurative and ornamental details, inspires much of my work."

Minnesota Rocks! is presented by Public Art Saint Paul. The group's president and the driving force behind the event being held in St. Paul this year, is yet another U alum, Christine Podas-Larson. The symposium, which includes the open-air studio, neighborhood tours, and special programs, is free and open to the public from noon to 8 p.m. daily.

For a complete schedule, see Minnesota Rocks!.