Rock Shop

Rock Shop

A stone carver’s ode to his Baltimore studio
stone carver in studio using pneumatic hammer on marble slab

Sebastian Martorana using a pneumatic hammer in his studio. Photo by Geoff T. Graham.

In my studio I am the luckiest kid in the raddest candy shop in all the land. My studio is a playground. My studio is the nexus of past and present. The old school and the new school wage war on a regular basis and the winner is anyone’s guess. My studio is a sanctuary for salvaged stone architectural shards and misfit marble stair steps. My studio is a repository for historic tools that are admired and used—hard.

hand drawn floor plan of a stone sculptors studio

In my studio I pursue both precision and play. I practice, practice, practice in the impossible pursuit of perfection.

overhead photo of a stone sculptors studio

TOP: Martorana’s hand-drawn studio floor plan. BOTTOM: Martorana’s studio, located in the Hilgartner Natural Stone shop, the country’s oldest continually operational stone fabrication shop, in Baltimore, Maryland. Illustration and photo by Sebastian Martorana.

In my studio I dream up new tools that should exist, and I make calls to those who can help me make them real. My studio is a research lab, an experimental space, inside the blast radius, the scene of the crime—and occasionally the site of temporary victory. In my studio I can bash and blast and bang sculptures; I can also throttle down to tap, tap, tap with teeny-tiny tools.

My studio is the stage for performance art that no one will ever see . . . mostly.

a wall in a stone carvers studio with an array of hammers, chisels, and grinders stone carving in progress—a larger round slab with stars and the word federal. Tools are strewn about it.

TOP: Tools of the trade. BOTTOM: US Federal Reserve grand seal, 2021, made of Olympic Danby marble. Photos by Sebastian Martorana.

In my studio I have my say. In my studio I pursue both precision and play. I practice, practice, practice in the impossible pursuit of perfection. I tune out noise that I hear with my ears and tune in past advice I can hear in my head. In my studio I remember to just get rid of the bad stone. In my studio when you think you are good—that is when you are not. In my studio don’t just do what you know how to do because you know it will be good, but do what you don’t know how to do because it might be bad. In my studio I learn. In my studio sometimes you have to go slow, take your time, and don’t make any mistakes. My studio can be confusing sometimes.

stone carver working on a marble sculpture of a pair of pants draped over a wooden hanger

ABOVE: Martorana at work on We Both Wear Pants, 2015, one part of a diptych made from Montclair Danby marble. RIGHT: Working on final finish. Photos by Alain Hain.

close-up of a stone carver working on a marble sculpture of a pair of pants

My studio is home to that broke Baltimore grad student looking for rocks 15 years ago—the one who instead found a stone shop without a carver. In my studio there is a synergy between one of the youngest carvers in the country and one of its oldest stone shops (founded in 1981 and 1863 respectively). In my studio there is a former 40 under 40 still feeling fresh, but increasingly fearful of the finite nature of the flesh. Fortunately, the forever nature of these metamorphic matrices will endure long past the failure of these frail phalanges.

In my studio I am making dust out of a big stone for the country’s biggest bank, I am beating a boulder into a bench, and I am folding marble fabric one mallet strike at a time. My studio is the base camp for artistic expeditions to various locations including monuments and memorials, museums and galleries, even the occasional visit to a big, old church on a small, older island up north.

marble sculpture of a fabric sheet draped over a box like slab
stone carver working on a large marble plaque with names

LEFT: Unseen, 2017, Olympic Danby marble, 30 x 16 x 4 in. RIGHT: Martorana at work on a 2017 benefactor plaque made from Carrara marble for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Photos by Geoff T. Graham.

In my studio I never watch the clock.

In my studio I set alarms to remind me to turn off the lights and step away from the rock.

In my studio I sit and reflect on each project and I excitedly wonder what to expect of the next!

sebastianworks.com | @sebastianmartorana

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Cover of Winter 2022 issue of American Craft