From Rocks to Masterpieces: An examination of the art of stone carving

Imagine transforming rocks you find on the ground into artistic and cultural masterpieces. That is exactly what stone carver Laura Travis has accomplished over the past 28 years. “I took a trip to Ireland and would spend my time running around trying to find ruins and little carvings. I was so attracted to these little carvings.” Travis now teaches classes on how to carve a multitude of designs into many different types of stones.

On her website, Travis mentions ancient myths and stories about white stones that she refers to as “sanctuary stones” which are found on the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. “Throughout time white stones are always singled out as being special… Once I carved something into them, people treated them like they just had a different feeling about them. I was attracted by the notion that it represented something more to people.” 

At the Blackstone River Theater in Cumberland, she teaches Celtic Relief Stone Carving to novice carvers. Travis elaborates on the role that Celtic culture plays with her art: “It is something (…) that evokes a different atmosphere, maybe a little more contemplative, associated with history and something older. If I had something that I was seeking to connect with, it is not the giant museum full of large marble sculptures, it is that little church at the end of the road with some of things that have survived for a long time that are small and intimate that you have to go look for them.”

 Travis works hard to bring Celtic traditions into her art that she shares with others. In her class, people can come with designs they like, but Travis recommends designs that are ancient patterns and representative of the Celtic culture. “As beginning carvers, we want them to have a great time, to learn a lot and to have the piece be successful… We spend a certain amount of time modifying the designs so it makes them very carvable for the beginner.”

“It is a whole weekend, non-stop, it is like an immersion experience. So you can really throw yourself into it and see if you like it. (…) I am always amazed with how much people get out of it,” Travis says. Classes in stone carving are a great opportunity to try something new and possibly discover a new talent or passion. More than anything, you can enjoy a weekend with great company and great art!

Laura Travis is also a guest artist at Imago Gallery in Warren, RI. The show opens on June 4th. 

On the Cover: May 2022

This issue’s cover artist Joey Moreira provides us with a detailed drawing that captures many different styles, colors and themes in one cohesive image. The piece is loaded with symbolism of the state of RI: our admiration of this work mirrors the appreciation that we have for the state we call home.

Moreira wanted an aesthetic contrast between the vibrant colors, which are centered around the masked woman, and the dark background that is decorated with our RI area code. The illustration is partly inspired by The Spirit of Youth, a bronze statue located on Blackstone Boulevard in PVD. The sculpture memorializes Constance Witherby, a 16-year-old PVD girl who passed away while hiking in the Alps in 1929. 

Moreira elaborates on the detail of his artwork by noting, “My direction was inspired by my love for both color, black-and-gray style tattooing and how they look when you pull them both together. I also wanted to find a way to incorporate our lil Rhody into the design as it is home and I feel we have such rich art and culture. You will find our state flag symbol, state flower and in the heart… our actual state as it appears on the map.” 

To learn more about Joey Moreira and his work, particularly his tattoo artistry, read our coverage about his wins at the 2022 Motif Tattoo Awards.

Biz Whiz: Biz Bodega has the answers you need

Have you ever needed a wise guide that grants you all the answers you need? Innovation Studio and One Neighborhood Builders have partnered to create Biz Bodega, which provides just that! Biz Bodega is a facility that offers the gift of free resources and assistance to local entrepreneurs and budding businesses who are either just beginning their journey or who are looking for guidance with more established businesses. It is a space that can be the perfect help for any business owner who is looking for tips and expertise from business specialists, as well as a variety of resources and services.

Cynthia Munrayos and Walther Morales, both specialists at Biz Bodega, provided insight into the creation and purpose of Biz Bodega. 

Victoria Kaufman: How does Biz Bodega help the development of new businesses and upcoming entrepreneurs?

Cynthia Munrayos: We are working on a program that will help entrepreneurs and business owners that are working with the business that they need to improve. If they are trying to build a business, or if they just have an idea, they can come to us and we can help them. We are developing a program based on the niche of that community, and I think that the advantage that we have is that we are getting to know the people and the community. I think that is something very interesting that we are putting in our programs so we know what their background is, their education, all those demographics. I think that the numbers work, but getting to know the real person behind the numbers, that is even more important.

Walther Morales: Many of the programs [like this] are… like a cookie cutter kind of thing, and we are trying to deviate a little bit from that. We need to understand who they are and what their background is. We are not catering every program to each individual, but we are trying to know who the community is in order to get a better result for anything we do at Biz Bodega.

VK: Do you think that something like Biz Bodega has been missing in the Providence community?

CM: For somebody who has lived in Rhode Island for a while, I have never seen a project like this that is so open to communicate and meet with the community and to offer all these different kinds of services. I think that it is important to acknowledge the positions that people are in. For example, [for] a lot of people that have small businesses, sometimes it is a side gig, and a lot of times they are working their full time jobs and then also making time for their small businesses. So we are also open on Saturdays because it is kind of a one stop shop, we want people to come in here and if they need any type of help or service we can offer that to them, even on Saturdays.

WM: Based on my research and data, I can say that this is a missing link. There have been a lot of trials of programs that are trying to match what we want to build and create at Biz Bodega. However I think that what Biz Bodega is doing is something very important in the sense that we are using concepts of local economic development, trying to reactivate the economy, the local community.. So working with the use of existing resources in a given territory… that will work for stimulating and promoting economic growth. So it is not only a space. Yeah it looks nice and beautiful, you can come in and it is part of the community, but it is much more than that, it’s like the economic growth of the community.

VK: What specific kinds of resources and services does Biz Bodega provide to the entrepreneurial community?

CM: Biz Bodega is also a coworking space. So we do want to open it up to the entrepreneurial community, anyone who could make use of the space. Whether that is to host an event, or just to come in here and use it. Another service that we offer is an entrepreneurship navigation, which is a 1 on 1 consultation to address any individual needs or focuses that the person is looking for, which Walther navigates and he is the one who runs it.

WM: Complementing Cynthia’s point, we are working on specific programming tools and resources. For example we are working on making a three-week program for people to get the knowledge of how to build a business. How to just think of an idea. It may sound like many other places are doing it, however we are putting in your own secret sauce, and that is what makes us distinctive from all the other programs. We are developing a program that will help existing businesses just to improve and make it better and make a more self-sufficient model for them to generate income.

VK: Does a new business or any entrepreneur interested in Biz Bodega have to meet with a specialist to utilize the services or could they just walk in and use the space on their own?

CM: They can come in and if they specifically want to improve their business and they are looking for different services and tools, we offer that.

WM: The best part is that these are free resources as well. We are trying to go where people are… We want to gain people’s confidence as well. And that is something that is very important. What I said about getting to know people, you need to know who you are working with. What are their expectations, their backgrounds? We are not just expecting people to come in. We are going to meet people where they are.

If Wallpaper Could Talk: Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] tells old stories with new perspectives

The minute I stepped into the large empty room of the exhibit, I was blown away by the size of it. I was instantly intrigued by the large moving screen of a painting of a Pacific island projected on the wall. In the foreground were people walking around and interacting with each other in the projection. Some were dressed as the European explorers, others as Pacific Islanders from the same era of colonial expansion. I watched their interactions in front of this painted background like it was a dramatic movie, and I could not wait to see what would come next in the scrolling panorama of the videos of them. The room was cool, almost as if wind was blowing, but I am sure I was just imagining being on the island with the people, since they were so close moving right in front of me. I couldn’t help but keep my eyes glued to the screen as I watched the variety of interactions taking place as the scenes and sounds slowly scrolled across the room, playing out until the scene reached the end of the wall. 

Lisa Reihana’s immersive creation, in Pursuit of Venus [infected], utilizes modern technology to provide viewers the opportunity to learn about 18th century European exploration of the Pacific from a new perspective. Reihanna uses the 19th century French wallpaper Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique (The Native Peoples of the Pacific Ocean), 1804-1805 by Joseph Dufour et Cie, to serve as the Pacific island landscape background behind recordings of real-life actors who reenact a plethora of scenes from the European explorers meeting the native Māori and other Pacific Indigenous peoples. Music, sounds, and video recordings of the actors create the immersive experience for the viewer. The technology of this exhibit generates curiosity and uncertainty as you get to watch the typical behavior and sometimes conflict between the groups of people.

Reihana, who is Māori herself, has a mission of reimagining the previous fantastical, Neoclassical depiction of Captain James Cook and his voyages. Instead, her work provides an accurate understanding of both the peaceful and violent interactions between the European settlers and native Pacific Islanders. She does this by transparently illustrating the exchanges between the two culturally distinct groups. Reihana states, “I challenge the stereotypes that developed in those times and since, and the gaze of imperialism is turned back on itself with a speculative twist that disrupts notions of beauty, authenticity, and history and uncovers myth-making.”

Kate Krazcon, the curator of the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, shares her insight on the value and mission of Reihana’s work: “Reihanna is not moving towards authenticity; that is not what she is trying to achieve. She is trying to kind of reimagine, not depict historical moments, but reimagine what could have happened in terms of miscommunication across British and Native Pacific Islanders in terms of their encounters.” 

Krazcon elaborated on the true motivation behind Reihanna’s efforts as she explained that the exhibit demonstrates how exploration was not simply the British coming and dominating the land because they had firearms or large and impressive ships. Rather, there were many moments of cultural exchange and appreciation between the different groups of people. 

Finally, Krazcon comments on the impact that the cinematic technology has had on the public’s engagement with the exhibit: “I think that when you draw from cinematic strategies, people are more likely to engage with work, versus if she just made another print of the wallpaper … It draws you in. People tend to spend a lot of time when they go into the piece and I think that was her intent. It was also to activate and get the agency to the indigenous peoples of the original wallpaper because they were depicted so incorrectly historically.”

A note of warning to anyone who attends: Time passes differently in the exhibit. Something about the relaxed but constant pacing made me expect to stay only a few minutes, but when I checked my phone it had been 30. To go centuries back in time seems to take a little contemplation time.