Story and photos by Greg Crawford
Stone Revival is the name of the gallery and studio of M. Julian
Isaacson, a gifted sculptor who works primarily in marble, but also
in wood. He also produces tiles molded from his original
sculptures. His business card reads: "Interior & Exterior
Hand-carved Imperial Tiles, Fine Art, & Architectural
Enhancements," which covers it quite succinctly. Isaacson will be
hosting an open house at Stone Revival on October 6-7 from 10 a.m.
until 4 p.m. with many works on display.
Isaacson is a self-taught sculptor born into a family of artists
and musicians, so creativity is deeply imbedded in his genes. Now,
there are some who attach more value to where someone went to
school than to any actual ability they might have. While colleges
and universities may provide the tools and specialized work spaces
essential to gaining proficiency in certain pursuits, ultimately,
they only confer degrees; they do not confer intelligence or
talent. The fact is, everyone is self-taught, in a sense. A teacher
really only facilitates; it is the responsibility of the student to
actively learn. There'll be a quiz in the morning.
As a youngster, Julian Isaacson originally gravitated toward
painting, but it soon became apparent that he was colorblind. Genes
can certainly be fickle; make the kid creative, then make it so he
can't tell red from green. Go figure. Anyway, thus it was that he
found his creative outlet through sculpture.
Sculpting in marble, or any other material, for that matter, is
not an undertaking for those seeking instant gratification. Freeing
an image from the surrounding stone takes time and patience. Lots
of time and patience.
The techniques for doing so have not changed much for thousands
of years. Just like the long-forgotten sculptors of Mesopotamia,
the masters of the human form from the Greek Hellenistic period,
and Michelangelo, Julian Isaacson uses mallets, chisels, and rasps
to create his masterpieces. Interestingly, he says that wood is, in
some ways, the more challenging medium. Different woods respond to
the sculptor's chisel in different ways. Softer hardwoods, like
butternut, have a tendency to chip and splinter more readily than,
say, maple. So a sculptor must modify his techniques to accommodate
the specific characteristics of the wood beneath his hand. Many
different woods are represented in the relief sculptures on the
walls of his gallery.
But Mr. Isaacson really loves to work with marble, a metamorphic
rock of calcite, dolomite, or a combination of these carbonate
minerals. During the Precambrian and Paleozoic Eras, the
microscopic skeletons and shells of marine organisms fell to the
bottom of the vast seas. As this organic detritus accumulated, it
formed limestone that was subjected to immense pressure and heat
over many millions of years. Plate tectonics gradually pushed these
ancient sea beds around to form the mountains of Greece, Italy, and
other regions where marble deposits occur- including Vermont. The
product of those geologic forces has been the favorite medium of
sculptors for millennia. Incidentally, much of the marble that
graces our nation's capital came from Vermont.
The marble of the Mediterranean region is more often a pure
white, making it ideal for large sculpted figures. Vermont marble
is more likely to feature the delicate veining so often associated
with architectural applications, and, of course, the exquisite
coloration of the Rochester Verde Antique marble quarried only a
few miles north of the Stone Revival studio and gallery.
This is part of the reason that Julian Isaacson came back to
Vermont. He and his lovely wife, Lee Ann, lived on the Left Coast
for many years, both in California and in the Pacific Northwest.
Eventually, they decided that, instead of bringing the mountain to
Julian one or two rocks at a time, it made more sense to bring
Julian to the mountains from whence came the source of his
livelihood. A friend told him of the late Bill Gilderdale's old gun
shop on Route 100 in Stockbridge, a deal was struck, and Julian set
Isaacson has a particular affinity for bas-relief sculpture, and
many of his panels tell a story, or at least suggest that there is
a story behind the image. He is also a proponent of what he terms
"functional art." The counter in his gallery consists of three
marble panels, the longest of which is a little over five feet
long, by two feet in height. The triptych depicts an Indian running
through the woods among deer. The top is a single polished slab of
the aforementioned Rochester Verde Antique marble, and the entire
assembly is supported by a custom-made steel frame that allows the
piece to be disassembled, should Lee Ann wish to rearrange the
furniture. The thing must weigh a ton, literally, so it'll probably
stay right where it is for the foreseeable future.
The notion of functional art, something you can admire for its
aesthetic appeal even as it serves a more prosaic purpose, is also
a major selling point for those who don't have room in their parlor
for a humongous statue. The possibilities are limited only by one's
Julian Isaacson is dedicated to making his art accessible to
all. If potential customers have desires that exceed the limits of
their pocketbooks, he will work with them to find a balance
agreeable to all. He also installed a window in the gallery through
which patrons can see his workspace. Children who visit are
fascinated by the fact that hammering on a rock can produce a work
The clay tiles that Isaacson casts from molds of his stone carvings
are another way to make his art more available and affordable.
These tiles are also another form of functional art, as evidenced
by the elegant fireplace surround displayed behind his magnificent
Creating three-dimensional art has been an essential part of
human history since our most ancient ancestors first realized they
could do cool stuff with opposable thumbs. The graves of
Neanderthals contained small stone carvings, and the Cro-Magnons
who eventually displaced them were masters of beautiful and highly
stylized art and sculpture. Art is (not to put too fine a point on
it) essential to a rich and fulfilling life. No one's education is
complete without it. Those who may scoff should be reminded that
the team insignias on your hats and jackets were created by… that's
The uninitiated may well wonder, where does one begin when
sculpting an image? Surprisingly, it doesn't necessarily begin with
a block of marble, though a piece of marble may sometimes scream,
"Carve me into a poodle!" More frequently, though, that first spark
of inspiration begins its evolution as a sketch, which is refined
to make the most of the particular stone from which it will
Once the basic outline of the subject is transferred to the
stone, the sculptor will begin by removing, or "pitching," unwanted
areas, (anything that is not poodle) with a pitching tool, which is
a heavy chisel that can have a pointed or a broad, blunt end,
depending on how much material is to be removed with any given blow
of the mallet.
Once the general shape of the subject has been roughed out,
smaller chisels are used to refine the details. These may be
toothed, or claw, chisels with multiple cutting edges. As details
are formed, rasps and rifflers further refine subtle shapes like
the folds of fabric, or curls in the locks of hair.
Finally, the piece is finished by polishing. Progressively finer
abrasives, starting with a coarse sandpaper, and ending with an
extra fine emery cloth, will give the sculpture a beautiful sheen
that brings out the color of the marble, and reveals subtle
patterns in the grain. Often, both rough and smooth surfaces are
combined to convey the sense of the varying textures of a single
subject. Now that's one fine lookin' poodle!
Stone Revival will be hosting an open house on October 6-7 from
10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Julian and Lee Ann Isaacson are gracious
hosts. The studio is located at 1354 Route 100 in Stockbridge, just
a short drive north of Killington. It is a barn red building on the
right next to a 300 year-old maple tree on the edge of a hay field.
Everyone is encouraged to attend. For more information, call
746-8110, or visit www.stonerevival.com.