Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Spirit of the Stone

Question 1: How many of you have taken a smooth, flat stone and thrown it into a river to see how many times it would skip before sinking?

Question 2: How many of you stone-skippers have thought "How does the stone feel about being moved from its place on the shore?"

My answer to Question 1 is "Once," because I thought to myself "Here was this stone whose existence was that of an occupier of space on dry land, and now I have totally disrupted that peasceful existence and have thrown it into a watery surrounding." Pretty strange, right?

Well, maybe not.

Meet Clifford Fragua. Clifford is a sculptor and owner of Singing Stone Studio, Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico. He was invited to give a presentation at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Sculpting in stone since 1974, Clifford was recently commissioned by the State of New Mexico to produce a sculpture of Po'pay, one of the two sculptures that the State would present for display in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, DC. Clifford's seven-foot-high statue of Po'pay was carved from pink Tennessee marble and stands on a three-foot-high pedestal.

Briefly, in 1680 Po’pay organized the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish. The Pueblo Revolt helped to ensure the survival of the Pueblo culture and shaped the history of the American Southwest.

The statue has recently been moved to the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC, for display. (Check the web page for a picture of this sculpture: or Slideshow for U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.)

OK, I think this national recognition should establish Clifford as an expert on stone. He observes: “The stone speaks to me by its color and sound. . . . My connection with the stone involves spirituality and reverence for the spirit that dwells within. It has been on this earth much longer than man and for this reason the stone becomes the teacher, it is simply what my ancestors believe. I am the mediator between the stone and the tools; the stone and the viewer. I visualize what the stone wants to become and I strive to help it blossom.”

Clifford showed us some of the tools he used in his work, from the power tools for the early work

to the hand tools used in the finer detail work.

He then showed us one of his recent work-in-progress sculptures. Clifford noted that he plays in a band. He wanted to honor the flute players in his band "by having the figure offer the flute to our Maker."

But it was his words about the stone that reverberated in my mind: "All things in Nature have spirits and whatever lives in the Spirit wants to emerge. My job is to help it--as the Mediator or the Tool."

I spoke to Clifford after his presentation and asked if it is difficult to sell his works after all his investment in its creation. Instead of answering that he buys food and pays bills with the money from sales, he said, in essence, "In my work, I want to enable the spirit of the stone to thrive in the setting of another who will provide a new level of happiness." By doing so, Clifford helps complete the stone's "journey."

I now understood my concern about stones I have known.

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