Last weekend, I got to ride along with my husband Richard as he hauled his latest sculpture project, a fire-pit carved from a granite boulder rounded by long-vanished Arkansas River Valley glaciers, to its intended home in a Denver backyard. An architect and his design showroom-owner wife had commissioned Richard to carve them a fire-pit to serve as the centerpiece of their newly landscaped backyard. Their only specifications: the rock had to be approximately 36 inches in diameter to accommodate a basin (for the gas fire of the fire-pit) 24 inches in diameter. Oh, and it needed to be about two feet high.
The search for the right rock took months, and ranged to quarries as far away as the Pacific Northwest. In the end, they found just the right boulder at a rock-yard not three miles from Richard's studio, a beautiful rounded chunk of granite with sinuous curves and two wide bands of quartzite running through it. Once Richard figured out what the boulder had to say, where the basin for the fire-pit should be carved, and which sides were the top and bottom -- oh, and how to mend the crack that ran through the whole boulder and threatened to split it in to two much smaller boulders -- he was set to begin.
Well, except that in order to begin, he had to be able to move the boulder around and turn it over -- did I mention that this fabulous rock weighs nearly a ton? So he invented and fabricated a gantry, a portable overhead crane capable of picking the rock up and moving it by hand.
Once he had carved off the lobe to make a flat bottom -- the fire-pit would sit on a paving-stone patio, and leveled the top and carved the basin and polished the top to a mirror finish, he decided that the gas fire should be contained in a steel basin that appeared to float just above the basin carved in the stone. (That would keep the heat of the fire from making that fatal crack in the rock worse.) So with the help of friends, he hand-forged a steel bowl to echo the shape of the basin in the boulder. He put the whole thing together, finished polishing the rock, and then it was time to deliver it. . . .
To Denver. Two and a half hours away, over three mountain passes, all over 10,000 feet elevation. In November, when snow falls on the high country. But as it happened, the weather was perfect the day of delivery, our aging Isuzu Trooper did a fabulous job of hauling Richard's 13-foot utility trailer, the portable crane, tools, and the near-ton of rock up and over the mountains and down to Denver.
And Richard did a fabulous job of backing the trailer into the architect's garage at the right-angle bend in the narrow alley. And of hoisting the fire-pit boulder off the trailer with his ingenuous hand-powered crane. And of using the crane to hoist the boulder up two steps, easing it through a door that is exactly the width of the boulder, with not a smidgen to spare. And of using that crane -- did I mention that it rolls? -- to ease the boulder exactly into place on the patio. The plumber connected the gas, the fire was lighted, and wow! It looks exactly right. What a lovely end to quite an adventure in sculpture. . . .
The news? Colorado's Governor Bill Ritter has chosen my latest book, Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road, a collaboration with photographer Jim Steinberg, as one of his gifts to dignitaries on his Trade Mission to China and Japan. So several cartons of our six-pound baby, a two-volume set of books described as "lavish" and "inspiring" are off to China and Japan!
And I'm off next week to do more book-signings for Colorado Scenic Byways, beginning with a program at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science next Tuesday. Check my web site for dates and places.