Man among few remaining stone carvers keeping the art alive

Posted at 4:26 PM, Dec 04, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. – Stone carving is a tradition going to the wayside as technology takes over.

Right now, there are only a few dozen stone carvers remaining across the United States. Among them is Walter S. Arnold in Chicago.

“I am a sculptor and a stone carver. Traditionally, those were two separate professions,” said Arnold. “The sculptor was the creative person who made the model, like a composer for music, and the stone carver was like the musicians in an orchestra.”

Arnold believes art is one of the things that define humanity.

“You know, building on the old traditions and learning from them are all a part of it. 100, 150 years ago there were thousands of carvers in this country,” said Arnold. “There might be a few dozen now.”

People have kind of lost the eye for it, according to Arnold.

“People no longer grew up around it,” said Arnold. “Walk around an old city like Chicago and look up and you'll see carving everywhere.”

Arnold has been carving all his life.

“I think I first took a chisel to a piece of stone when I was about 12 and ended up going to Italy when I was about 20 near the quarries near Carrara where the marble is quarried.”

Arnold says gargoyles in particular appeal to him.

“They appeal to my imagination, sort of on the edge between what is recognizable and real and natural and human, and what is imaginary and supernatural,” he said.

Throughout history, Arnold says our earliest records of civilization come to us through carving and it has been a part of civilizations all over the world throughout history as a way to communicate.

“The painter Delacroix, a French painter in the 1800s, once said that the last few brush strokes that will finish a painting and kill it. So, in a way for me, the last few chisel strokes are when I pass it on from me and then it becomes your responsibility to see which piece appeals to you or speaks to you or is important to you.”

Arnold says his message is to look at the world with a sense of wonderment, to see things that you don’t expect

“To be delighted and surprised, to see the world in three dimensions.”