- Associated Press - Sunday, August 20, 2017

BOSTON, Va. (AP) - Sculptor Bob Bouquet appreciates the challenge of working with stone.

“You get second chances when you build up a piece with clay,” he said. “In direct carving, the thing I like about it is there ain’t no second chances. Once you’ve chipped away a piece of stone, it’s not coming back. It’s kind of like billiards or chess - you’ve got to plan two or three moves ahead because once that piece of stone is gone, if it was supposed to be the tip of a nose, you’ve got to do something else.”

Self-taught, 77-year-old Bouquet first used a chisel, hammer and a piece of wood for carving about 40 years ago.

“It was just a pine log in a neighbor’s yard I picked up and went at it,” said the Culpeper County artist. “I made a family group - mother, father and child. It was pretty rough.”

About 20 years ago, Bouquet switched to exclusively using stone at the encouragement of a fellow sculptor in Richmond, where he was living at the time. Once Bouquet realized that working with stone used the same sort of tools as carving wood, he began to appreciate the new medium.

“The idea is the same - you are chipping away pieces of wood or stone to arrive at your work,” he said.

Bouquet got his hands on some black soapstone, and it the pliable material mined in this area had him hooked, accounting for half of his creations these days.

“It’s fairly easy to work with, it’s a soft stone and you don’t need a lot of big time tools,” said the artist who also carves with Italian alabaster and marble that comes from a New Jersey quarry.

In addition to a hammer and chisels, Bouquet creates his sculptures using files and sandpaper, achieving a variety of finishes from high gloss to a rough texture. He gets the soapstone from Mid-Atlantic Masonry Heat, located on U.S. 29 in Madison County, and enjoys going there due to its proximity as well as the freedom to choose which pieces he wants.

The soapstone, with a brand name of “Black Pearl,” comes from a quarry in the Schuyler area of Albemarle County that’s been mined since the late 1800s. In its natural state, the stone is a pearl gray color and when waxed turns black.

Native Americans used the stone for 10,000 years, originating from a deposit that formed deep in the earth’s surface some 250 millions year ago. It is commonly known for making the tops of school laboratory tables in science class.

“It resists the tendency to split, flake, chip or spall, even under extreme temperatures. For these reasons, it lends itself perfectly to the processes of sculptural carving,” according to the Mid-Atlantic Masonry Heat web site.

Bouquet likes it too because it’s heavy - a cubic foot of the stuff alone weighs 180 pounds. He appreciates the exercise he gets handling it.

“The physical effort of carving stone is part of what drew me to this form of art,” he said, adding with a laugh, “As I am getting older, my pieces are getting smaller.”

Bouquet mainly creates human forms or animals and the occasional abstract piece. He typically sculpts in the mornings about four or five times a week without sketches or models - just an idea in his head.

“A lot of times, the final product looks different than what I was picturing,” Bouquet said. “Sometimes the stone almost speaks to you because of its size or the grain. I’ve had occasions where I started with a horse’s head and it ended up being a raven’s head.”

The retired New York City stockbroker from New Jersey sculpts in the most rudimentary of spaces - a table-height wooden bench sitting outside behind a horse barn on his 172-acre property facing the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“To me, this is the perfect set-up,” he said on a recent morning. “I don’t even know where I’d do it in the city because I make a hell of a mess. I do use a few power tools including a diamond-blade saw to cut rough edges and corners off and it’s just clouds of smoke.”

Some of the larger pieces Bouquet has sculpted during the past four decades took a year or longer to make while others can take 40 or so hours spread out during a month. The process is peaceful, he agreed.

“Like with most art or whatever your passion happens to be, once you’re into it you forget time and what’s going on around you,” Bouquet said.

He’s exhibited in various juried shows around the area and his work is in a number of private collections as well as galleries in Sperryville, Falls Church and Washington, Virginia. Bouquet is treasurer of the artists’ cooperative at Middle Street Gallery, located above a Main Street coffee house in Sperryville. His work is on display there and he’s currently preparing new pieces for a March show at the Gay Street Gallery, located next to the five-star Inn at Little Washington.

During the recent visit to his “studio,” Bouquet chipped away at an owl sitting on a tree stump, a rare commission piece for a relative. Behind him a horse, peered out from the barn.

“This is my studio. My muse is that horse that watches me right here,” Bouquet said, using a chisel to form the shape of the wise bird. “It’s just a matter of getting a half-dozen chisels and a hammer and just whacking away at it. I love doing it.”

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