The Ghost Carver

For a long time I worked with a man named Fernando who made his living by copying things in marble. He must have been one of the fastest stone carvers in the world.

Artists would bring him a plaster model of one of their works and Fernando would reproduce it in any stone they wanted. You could even take him a little figure you had modelled in clay and he would copy it for you—enlarged to any size. His workshop was full of marble blocks for you to choose from. He was lightning fast and not even very expensive.

His margin of profit depended on the speed of execution. Every day the work stayed in his shop cost him that day´s workmen´s wages. But even aside from the business consideration, Fernando saw no point in “horsing around”. He cut into the marble with enviable boldness and authority and finished a statue in a hurry.

He would come to work quite late in the morning and, after changing into the clown outfit they all put on, he would sit down on a little milkstool in front of the block, which by the time it was ready for Fernando had already been roughed out. He would look at the stone and then at the plaster model, consider for a moment, and then set right to work with the air-hammer.

He had a good eye for detail and he was a fair judge of the quality of a thing, but he was incapable of coming up with his own original figure. Yet as soon as he had someone else´s figure in front of him his mind got filled with it and he would start to work and to use his considerable talent to copy it and even to improve it. Often in his craft or trade you have to invent here or there where the model is unfinished or unclear. That Fernando could do as well or better than the artist himself.

How could that be?

Sculptors always said Fernando´s work was easier than theirs. He had before him the work as it was, while the sculptor usually didn´t consider the work a finished thing and wherever he looked would see something that could be improved. Or he didn´t want to finish. Maybe he liked a certain effect he had achieved but didn´t want to believe it was the best possible one. It is said that works of art are abandoned rather than finished: they are only sketches.
In fact, the plaster figures sculptors gave Fernando to copy were often sketchy in places. What did they expect him to do? Of course he used his own judgment and clarified the murky area as he thought appropriate to the figure, which more often pleased than displeased sculptors. They were grateful for the authority someone else exercised. Any decision is better than no decision.

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4 Responses to The Ghost Carver

  1. erikatakacs says:

    Well, I guess your post about Fernando answered one of the most important questions I asked in Rodin’s post.

  2. 100swallows says:

    Thanks a lot, erika. I’m going to put in another post soon on this subject. I hope that will answer another of those questions of yours. Sure–go poke your nose into Moore’s figure and look for the point-holes. Though in a monument-size piece of sculpture I think no one could object to the intervention of helpers. Those big smooth shapes of his are anyway easily done with machines.

  3. Pingback: Authority » The Ghost Carver

  4. ailene maneno says:

    I RECENTLY RECIEVED A PIECE OF ARTWORK THAT HAS BEEN IN MY FAMILY FOR GENERATIONS. MY FAMILY IS FROM THE CATHOLIC RELIGION AND THE SANTINI PIETA MY GRANDMOTHER HAD WAS ALWAYS A MYTH FOR ME BECAUSE SHE KEPT IN IT A PLACE SHE NEVER ALLOWED ANYONE TO VISIT WHERE SHE SAID HER PRAYERS LIKE THE WOMAN OF OUR FAMILY BEFORE HER. TO MY SURPRISE SHE LEFT IT TO ME IN HER WILL. I NEVER DREAMED IT WAS AN UNFINISHED SCULPTURE ALL SHE EVER SAID WAS IT WAS SPECIAL AND THAT IT HAS BEEN IN OUR FAMILY FOR MORE THAN 4 GENERATIONS. A HEAVY MARBLE BASE.
    THE PIECE HAS A YELLOW PATINA DUE TO IT AGE
    ALONG WITH YELLOW DEPOSIT INSIDE THE CRACKS
    ESPECIALLY IN THE FOLDS
    THIS IS PART OF WHAT TIME HAS DONE . THE PIECE LOOKS TO HAVE BEEN STARTED TO SHAVE THE EXCESS MOLD BUT WAS BARELY TOUCHED IN MY OPINION. THE ONLY SIGNATURE OR EVEN ATTEMP AT ONE IS ON THE BACK WHERE IT SIMPLY HAS TWO LETTERS “L T” IT EVENHAS THE EXTRA MOLD STILL IN THE HANDS AND ON THE FACES. I AM JUST CURIOUS AS TO WHY IT WAS NOT FINISHED. SOME IN MY FAMILY SAY MY GREAT GRANDFATHER 4 GENERATIONS AGO STOLE THE PIECE OTHERS SAY IT WAS GIVEN TO MY GREAT GREAT GREAT GRANDMOTHER AS A GIFT BECAUSE SHE FANCIED THE UNFINISHED LOOK. I HAVE SEARCHED AND LOOKED AND SEARCHED AGAIN.. I HAVE NEVER SEEN A PEICE LIKE THIS. I WAS READING THE COMMENTS AND THOUGHT MAYBE THE GROUP OF YOU ON HERE COULD SHED SOME LIGHT ON THIS.IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE PIECE YOU CAN EMAIL ME THE REQUEST AT ailene_maneno@yahoo.com. please send your response to this comment also in my email.

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