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Delicate Granite
Gary Haven Smith '73 carves whimsy into stone

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The path to the rural New Hampshire bungalow owned by Gary Haven Smith '73 is a journey into an archaic era. The winding dirt path is littered on either side with boulders, conveying the impression that one is on a pilgrimage to the den of a barbaric stone-thrower. Closer to the house, the stones begin to morph into unusual shapes, twisting and arching in curling forms.

For the past four decades, Smith has carved stones into abstract shapes. He first discovered his affinity for sculpture in college where, he said, the art courses "lit me on fire." At that time, he worked with an array of mediums, but he quickly became enraptured by the simplicity of stone.

Over the decades, Smith carved patterns into his stones, cut negative space from upright slabs and encouraged green moss to spread over impressed marble tabletops. Initially satisfied with simple hand tools, Smith now operates a pre-World War II diamond-wire saw, a relic once used quarry boulders from mountains. Caked in white stone dust, the mammoth machine pulls a wire through 6,000-pound rocks, which are adhered to a turning table below the saw, like a giant can-opener.

After a month of cutting and sanding, the result is a smooth granite slab that twists in perfectly symmetrical helices. The shapes resemble the crest of an ocean wave or the flexible spine of an Olympic gymnast. Quiet and philosophical, Smith equates the odd juxtaposition of cutting granite boulders into delicate ringlets to a metaphor for human life.

"We're dense. We have an outer core. But, there is this fragile thread that goes through our very existence," he says. "You can be an ox of a person and the next day you get some bad news and you become like an eggshell."

After UNH, Smith traveled to Greece each winter to sculpt 100-pound stones with primitive hand tools. Living in a hut on the picturesque Mediterranean, Smith chiseled away at slabs of creamy marble that he could buy cheaply there. One spring, he smuggled his 100-pound sculptures home in suitcases, cushioned by his own clothing. Even in those pre-9/11 days, such things were not normally allowed, but the Greek airport workers were on strike and waived him past.

These days, Smith endures the New England winters, but his works still travel. His pieces have been shown throughout the United States, Japan, Holland and Italy. As garden art for an affluent New Englander or as an apartment piece for a Manhattan collector, Smith's sculptures earn him a living. Locally, his pieces are on permanent display at the Dimond Library at UNH, the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery in Keene, the New Hampshire State Library in Concord and the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, Maine.

During the long stints of time spent "pounding on stone," Smith ponders the rock's journey from a rough boulder to an organic mass.

"If you start at the beginning, stone is a departure point," Smith said. "It is sort of like peeling off, rather than cutting through the middle, or shaving off the external parts. I end up with these delicate pieces, almost denying the material that it's made from. It's very playful and whimsical."

Visit Gary's website at: www.garyhavensmith.com

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