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, June 2010

Disabled? Carve On
By Darcy Meeker

Artist Darcy Meeker will be contributing occasional articles to the ISC Web Special on the subject of adapting sculptural techniques to individual needs. The current article is an introduction to the subject and the author. At the end of the article, she gives a list of useful Internet-accessible resources and links on the topic.

I’m one of the lucky ones among the many disabled stone carvers. The bad news: Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy is slowly eating away at my muscles. There is no treatment. No amount of exercise or physical therapy will hold it at bay. There’s nobody to be mad at -- it is genetic. No wars or bad drivers to curse. It comes on in midlife, so I got to build muscle and balance as a healthy young adult who loved to dance, hike, bike, and do martial arts. It comes on slowly, too, giving me time to adjust.

A year or two before my diagnosis, I noticed that if I was being uncertain or critical, telling myself, “Noses don’t look like that,” or “you should do this or that,” tools would just fall out of my hands. It was kind of enforced integrity – I had to be in harmony with myself, the stone, and the universe. What a gift!

I can still grip—not with my fingers, which don’t bend, but thumb to forefinger with my middle finger folded under as a guide. I have maybe 20% normal strength, so zippers, jars, and doors are a problem. My Makita die grinder, too. It got replaced by a Foredom flexshaft– more money, but easier to hold and gets into tighter spots. Later, hammer and chisel were replaced by a Mastercarver flexshaft with a reciprocating chisel handpiece. My grip works for my flexshafts and most of my beautiful Italian rifflers. And for some of my lovely English wood push-chisels: if I line myself up right, and steady the rock right, so I can use both hands on the chisel, and, if I keep the alabaster wet, then I can carve a face that touches your soul in a reasonable amount of time.

I can still tool copper when my body or the weather nix carving outside, so I doodle on copper for flamed architectural-scale wall sculptures and bas reliefs for homes. Now I’m drawing, too, in ink, using different point sizes to get a sculptural effect in 2-D.

My husband, Jim, polishes and hauls my sculptures. Fridays, people carve with me. They are getting very professional and feeling very empowered. We show together as Backyard Stone Carvers, and not just locally either. We’ll be on pedestals together in the Andrews (NC) Museum of Fine Art this summer while my big flamed copper wall sculptures cover the walls.

I can be organized, networked, proactive, and “Post-It queen” enough to help workshops, shows, and art centers happen, increasing opportunities for us all. My tablet PC lets me write by hand for short entries. Dragon Naturally Speaking software lets me dictate longer text.

I can make my sand bags with styrofoam beads from bean-bag chairs. They work well for shipping, too. I can do smaller carvings with my new turbo-carver humming along at 450,000 water-cooled revs. I can change my finishing practices; 1600-grit sandpaper isn’t really necessary. Sanding at 220 grit is enough, if, once the bruises and lumps are filed down perfectly, I soak the stone in baby oil, and seal it with wax.

I can still walk --on a smooth surface at what feels like one-half mile an hour – thanks to sandals that I designed that keep me from tripping over my toes, but also keep me cool enough that I don’t faint. That’s sculpture, too.

I can still raise one hand over my head, so light things can be stored above my shoulders, and I have a hydraulic table and hydraulic chair in my studio so that I can always be working a little below my waist.

I can still push and pull things around, and the flexshaft motors I can’t lift hang on a nice, stable six-wheel IV pole from a hospital. So I have wheels on my chair, my table, my tool tower, and my tool cabinet. Ready to rock and roll – that’s me.

Links and resources: 

Special Devices Help Handicap Sculptors
. Professor Norman Holen taught sculpture a Augsburg College in Mineappolis, and made special tools to allow his students to sculpt on their own.http://www.augsburg.edu/now/archives/summer02/holen.html#

http://www.ebility.com/articles/sculptors.php --Alistair Green and Garry Curry are quadriplegic stone sculptors. They founded the "Society of Disabled Artists" Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada . Focus: making art accessible by user-friendly workstations and customized tools and helping the artist gain skills and confidence. website: homepage.mac.com/soda.studio email:soda.studio@mac.com

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-08-03/local/me-176_1_heavy-metal Liz Young makes big metal sculptures in Los Angeles. From her wheelchair.

http://usinfo.org/enus/guided_tours/working/naranjo.html Michael Naranjo, an artist born in Santa Clara Pueblo who lost his eyes and much of the use of his right hand in a grenade blast as a soldier in Vietnam, carves beautiful, flowing stone sculpture and works in bronze. Seehttp://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa116.shtml

http://www.sculpturalpursuit.com/Archive/SPArchive.htm January winter 2004. Brian Grossman developed MS, saw it as writing on the wall, quit his job and lived in his truck for a while so he could afford to carve stone. I met him at the Loveland (CO) Invitational Sculpture Show and Sale. Later he was doing Sculpture in the Park, also in Loveland. His stones then were typically 10-14 inches and looked like loops of barbed wire, except that they were so beautiful and full of light, carved of impossibly thin Colorado alabaster, which goes all transparent in spots.

Resources for artist with disabilities. More of a blog than a website, but lots of useful links,
http://www.vsarts.org/ Artists’ registry, Creative Spirit Magazine

Creative Spirit PDF. International VSA festival, Washington, DC, June 6–12, 2010www.vsartsfestival.org VSA was long known as Very Special Arts. Words such as ‘special’ and ‘handicapped’ do not reflect current language trends in the United States and many other countries. Therefore, we are now just VSA—The International Organization on Arts and Disability. VSA is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Arts in Action VSA showcases the accomplishments of artists with disabilities and promotes increased access to the arts for people with disabilities. Education Programs VSA provides educators, parents, and artists with resources and the tools to support arts programming in schools and communities.

The National Council on Independent Living http://www.ncil.org lists local offices. The one in Richmond VA has an annual “Craft Show” in March that is well attended and receives good community support



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